In recent years, careless, or let’s say, less than sensible comments on social media have gotten countless employees in trouble with their boss. Employees who have used Facebook as a forum for posting threatening language and vile insults about a supervisor or offensive accusations about the company they work for have quickly been shown the door; and arbitrators and labour boards are often prepared to uphold these dismissals.
A new decision from the Court of Quebec, however, confirms that the consequences of resorting to social media to badmouth an employer don’t stop with the end of the employment relationship. Ian Ritchie, the dismissed employee in question, found this out the hard way, when his former employer sued him for defamation after he posted accusations about the operation of their business on Facebook.
Ritchie worked as an attendant at the Monseigneur Blanche Residence, a private care facility in Sept–Iles, Quebec, for a brief period in February 2016. Nancy Servant owned the Blanche Residence and one other care home in the area, both of which specialized in caring for patients with mental, physical, and developmental disabilities. Servant ran these residences with her partner Mohamed Ahmed. Both facilities had an excellent reputation for quality service and patient satisfaction within the community and their overseeing governmental bodies.
After he was dismissed (for failing to meet the residence’s service standards), Ritchie published the following message on his personal Facebook page:
When you work in a private care home and you see an attendant drag a patient by the legs, that is not good… But when you speak to your boss about it and he shows you the door, saying that you’re criticising the work done by your [colleagues]… What does one say then???? [translation]
Approximately 20 people commented on this post, some suggesting that Ritchie publicize the content more widely. The following day, Ritchie posted a second message on “Spotted Sept–Iles,” a public Facebook page followed by more than 10,000 people, stating:
Hi, over the weekend, I was training at the Monseigneur Blanche Residence when I saw an attendant drag a person with an intellectual disability to her room by the feet because she refused to co–operate. When I spoke about this to the chief attendant, she told me that I should speak to the boss about it but I received a call in the daytime telling me that I was dismissed because I criticized the work of my colleagues, so when they make mistakes at private care homes you know what happens behind closed doors. [translation]
Ritchie’s posts became a hot topic in the Sept–Iles community, leading to questions as to the residences’ quality of service and a formal investigation into attendant conduct by the regional Integrated Health Centre. This investigation ultimately cleared both residences of any wrongdoing, but the damage had been done.
Servant and Ahmed brought proceedings for defamation, and were successful in proving that Ritchie’s Facebook posts were entirely false and had brought discredit to their reputations. Justice Le Reste awarded a total of $17,500 in damages to the pair.
While it’s important to note that this result depended in part on the fact that Ritchie did not defend the claim and that Sept–Iles is a small, tight–knit community, it’s equally valuable to remember that even after an employee’s departure, there are routes for employers to curtail bad behaviour.
By: Amanda Shaw, Siskinds LLP
 See, for example, Canadian Union of Postal Workers v. Canada Post Corp.,  C.L.A.D. No. 85; and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1518 v. Lougheed Imports Ltd. (West Coast Mazda), 2010 CanLII 62482 (BC LRB).