Terminating Employees for Inappropriate Behaviour
Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and in the midst of protests and heightened awareness of anti-black racism across the world, two prominent Canadians have been “cancelled.”

Earlier this month Sasha Exeter, lifestyle blogger and influencer, called out Jessica Mulroney for “textbook white privilege.” Exeter explained, calling out Mulroney by name, that Mulroney took offence to her call to action for people with large public followings to use their platforms to address racial inequality and then proceeded to threaten Exeter and her brand.  Soon after Mulroney’s reality show, “I Do, Redo” had been cancelled by CTV, and Cityline, Good Morning America, Hudson’s Bay and apparently Meghan Markle, had all cut their ties with the star.

Mulroney’s fall was preceded by CBC TV host Wendy Mesley’s suspension from her show “The Weekly,” pending an investigation into her use of a racist word during a meeting. Again, details are fuzzy, but Mesley said on Twitter that she “used a word that should never be used” and that she was “quoting a journalist we were intending to interview on a panel discussion about coverage of racial inequality.” 

Can Employers Really Cancel Employees?

Probably, yes. 

Employers should take a strong stand against racism and inappropriate behaviour, especially where it occurs in the context of work. In Ontario, workplace harassment is prohibited by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and harassment that might be motivated by racism is also contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code. Employers should have Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination policies that address both of these requirements and employees should be trained on the content of these policies. 

If infringements of the policies or the law occur during work, employees should be disciplined appropriately. Firing an employee for cause could be warranted if the breach is particularly bad, or if the employee has been counselled several times and has continually not improved. In all cases, employers should address problematic behaviour with employees, give the employee a chance to respond and keep good records of the incidents and follow up. In some cases, such as Mesley’s, an investigation will be warranted. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that incidents of harassment are investigated. 

What About For Behaviour Outside of Work?

Similar to the questions we asked in our blog last week about when an employee is criminally charged, the extent to which an employer will be able to take job action against an employee who has acted inappropriately outside of the workplace will be context-specific. 

One major thing to consider will be the employee’s public connection to the employer. For example, did the employee tweet something inappropriate from a Twitter account where they are listed as an employee of your organization? Or from their Instagram account wearing a company uniform?  If the employee’s behaviour is likely to lead back to the employer and somehow tarnish it, then the employee has mixed their personal and professional life and should likely suffer the consequences. For more on this listen to my interview on Cancel Culture with CBC Radio from last Fall. 

Remember, absent discriminatory reasons, an employer can almost always terminate an employee’s employment with appropriate notice (or pay in lieu of notice). While an inappropriate   Facebook post may not be sufficient cause for termination, an employer generally does not have to continue employing someone they do not want to or whose values conflict with the organization.

If you need help dealing with inappropriate employee behaviour, on or off the job, get in touch for a consultation.