Workplace Free Expression
Social media has radically transformed the ability of individuals to transmit and publish their thoughts and opinions. One consequence has been to blur the boundary between employees’ public right to free expression and their private obligations as employees. In Canada, as elsewhere, employees are increasingly being disciplined or dismissed for engaging in social media-based activities outside of the workplace. This raises important questions about the extent to which personal activity outside of work is becoming subject to employer control.
Why It Matters
The use of social media in the workplace and outside of work raises many ethical, legal, and union-related questions about the balance between legitimate and illegitimate employer restrictions on employee speech. Social media platforms offer myriad opportunities for amplifying individual expression, some of which may clearly be contrary to employers’ interests. As a result, there is ambiguity about the free expressive rights of employees to share publicly their experiences at work without fear of reprisal. This is an important public policy, labour relations, and human rights issue.
The Centre for Free Expression is collaborating with Professor Charles Smith and Daniel J. Paré on their research into workplace free expression. Priorities are examining how employment law is dealing with workplace expression in the context of social media, and how arbitrators are reconciling employees' free expression rights with their contractual obligation to avoid harming their employers' public reputation. Click here for the searchable, online database of legal decisions regarding freedom of expression at work.
CO-WRITTEN BY CHARLES SMITH - On June 2, 2022, when Ontario voters went to the polls for the province’s 43rd general election, organizations employing more than 25 workers were obligated to have put in place a written policy on disconnecting from work; the so-called ‘right to disconnect.’
Barely a day goes by without reading a new story about employees being punished, fined, fired or shamed for engaging in online conversations about the workplace. Social media is radically transforming the relationship between employees and their employers in a host of ways not the least of which is its capacity to simultaneously augment peoples’ ability to express their voice and employers’ ability to monitor and discipline employees.