According to a recent decision by an Ontario labour arbitrator, employers may now be liable for not protecting their employees from harassment on the employer’s social media accounts.
In this decision, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers’ union filed a grievance regarding the TTC’s social media account created to communicate with the general public, alleging that the account served as a platform to harass TTC employees. The arbitrator granted the union’s grievance, despite the employer’s argument that, in this time of readily-available internet access, it is impossible for an employer to effectively filter all harassing social media posts. The arbitrator held that the difficulty of controlling or filtering the offensive information was not a defense to the charge of workplace harassment and, in cases of harassing conduct by third parties, the employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent such conduct in the future, in order to provide an adequate workplace for their employees. As such, the arbitrator ordered the TTC to implement a program of monitoring its social media and dealing with offensive posts.
If applied outside the arbitration context, the consequences of this decision may be very far-reaching and lead to the recognition of a duty to protect one’s employees from virtual harassment. As of now, it remains to be seen how the courts will decide on future cases involving employee harassment through the employer’s social media account.
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