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Another example of how Facebook comments can jeopardize an employee’s job

A first-grade teacher in New Jersey could lose her job following a questionable Facebook post. While this story comes out of the US, the lessons can apply to workplaces located in Canada.

The teacher posted on her Facebook wall that she was “a warden for future criminals“. Some of her 333 Facebook friends shared the post, and eventually some parents of the teacher’s students saw it. An administrative judge decided that it was a termination-worthy offence.

The comment is a bit harsh for first-graders, isn’t it? The judge sure thought so. In fact, the judge labeled the conduct “inexcusable”.

However, not surprisingly, the teacher has decided to appeal the decision. She claims that the context was important; she was exasperated after several students disrupted her class and after one boy hit her.

At this point, the state education commissioner must accept, reject or modify the judge’s decision within 45 days.

The comments that follow the linked article mainly support the teacher and contain an understanding tone. One parent agreed that it is unacceptable to be disrespectful to authority figures, and it is a shame when parents do not teach these principles to their children.

One commenter stated that abuse is not acceptable and the spoiled, entitled kids needed to be taught respect at school because they were clearly not being taught at home. One person noted that there is not a great deal of institutional support for teachers who are abused by disruptive students.

Only one comment mentioned that if a teacher can’t handle teaching children, the teacher should not teach.

This case reminds me of the Canadian case we reported on about two car dealership workers were terminated for cause after they wrote offensive and harassing messages on Facebook about their employer and managers.

But is this the same thing? A single comment after being struck by a student?

What do you think? Was the comment inappropriate? Was it so inappropriate that the teacher should lose her job? Is the context of the situation relevant here?

Also, what can employers do to manage and prevent this from happening? We wrote about tips regarding Facebook and privacy in the workplace here.

Essentially, the goal for employers should be about drafting a clear and consistent social media policy. The policy should explain what social media is and what the policy covers; non-work usages of social media; how publishing reflects on employees and the employer; how it is not permitted to speak on behalf of the employer; what the rules are regarding the use of social media in a business capacity; how the employer plans on monitoring employee usage of social media while at work; and the consequences of breaching the policy.

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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