Feeling silenced? As a public servant, how outspoken can you be during this campaign?

silenced

This Federal Election is unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s the longest campaign ever but it’s also taking place during something of a communications revolution. Sure we had Facebook  during the 2011 Federal Election but we hadn’t yet hit the user density of today and we hadn’t yet heard of things like Snapchat & Vine. Few Yukoners were tweeting in 2011 and we still naively believed that our privacy settings guaranteed us some degree of…well, privacy!

A lot has changed. Most of us are skeptical about how private our posts are, and we should be. What we say online in our off-work hours can have a profound negative impact on our careers. The recent suspension & subsequent retirement of scientist & public servant Tony Turner after his protest song Harperman went viral is a case in point. To be fair, it’s not only public servants who are felled by their online activities; in this election we’ve witnessed a never ending parade of disgraced candidates whose tweets and status updates have made short work of their political aspirations.

Bruno Thériault, director general of Justice Canada’s workplace branch recently sent a memo to the employees in his department. The memo, heavy handed and intimidating, sends the message that public servants should avoid using social media altogether during this election.

“Recent memos being sent to federal public service workers seem designed to discourage our members from exercising their legitimate rights”, says Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada PSAC). Read Ms. Benson’s blog post “We shall not be zipped” here.

Union members and all employees have a right to freedom of expression protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even if they work for the federal government.  Expressing political opinions or sharing political content on social media is a form of political expression and is protected by the Charter. Online political expression does not benefit from any greater or any less protection than other forms of political expression. You have the right to share political content on Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts as long as you do so outside your hours of work and you don’t use the employer’s equipment.

These rights are not absolute, so please consider the following carefully before you post, share, or tweet.

1. Don’t identify yourself as a government employee or include information or comments that suggest you are a government employee. Make sure your social media profiles don’t list your place of work or employer.

2. Consider your level of visibility and influence. Are you a supervisor? A public face of your organization?

3. Are you a union representative? Union representatives have greater freedom to engage in political activities however union representatives cannot make any comments about their employer that are reckless, malicious or dishonest.

So what’s the bottom line? Speak your mind, have an opinion, engage in the democratic process and be involved. While you’re at it, be wise, prudent and circumspect. And above all else, VOTE. Self censorship is only necessary in an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. Elect a government you do not fear.

Straight Talk: Off Duty Online Harassment may cost your JOB!

cloud-2“OMG – did you see Sarah’s outfit today?  Looks like she got dressed in the dark again!”

“Office romance alert:  it looks like Mr. Shiny-Shoes is cheating on his wife with Ms. Short-Skirts!!”

“All women are cheaters!”

We’ve all heard of cyber-bullying and online harassment through social media.  Did you know that if you engage in harassing behaviour online, you can be disciplined at work?  The rules of your employment don’t end when you go home for the day.  With the rise of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, what we say online can really affect our working lives.

It doesn’t matter if you’re posting from your home computer long after your work day ends;  if your online behaviour can be linked to your workplace,  your employer may have a legal obligation to make sure you are not harassing your co-workers.  The law says employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe and harassment-free workplace.  That includes ensuring protection from after-hours cyber-bullying.

Ask yourself the following questions to consider whether your online activities may be inviting discipline:

1. Is what you are saying online harassing? Is it critical, mean or overtly personal?
The first thing an employer would have to consider is whether what you said was actually a problem.

~Were your comments about a specific person or could they be reasonably interpreted to be about a specific person?
~Were your comments offensive or bullying in nature (the argument that you were making a joke won’t fly here)?
~Were they discriminatory (were they about a protected ground in the Yukon Human Rights Act)?
~Were your comments objectively inappropriate?

2. Were your comments made in a public forum?
We tend to think of some arenas as private: your kitchen, your car, your Facebook wall….?!

Although there are different levels of privacy on social media, Facebook & Twitter are NOT private.  Even if you post in a private message, your comments could be shared using screen capture or other tools.

If you have made offensive comments that you intended to be seen by a private audience (through a private message on Facebook,  or to a select few followers on Twitter), you could argue that your comments were not made in a public forum.  Proving that your comments were not public would help any argument you would make if your employer disciplines you for online comments. The reality is that once you put something out on the web you lose control of it.

3. Were your comments reasonably connected to work?
If your comments were about a specific person in your workplace, whether you named them or just made it clear who you were talking about, your employer (and co-workers and friends and community members) could reasonably conclude that your comments were connected to the workplace, and therefore have an obligation to act.

If you identify yourself on social media as working in that specific workplace, then your employer may also conclude that any comments you make are related to work and reflect poorly on the employer.  Therefore, they may act to discipline you.

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, your employer may have a legal obligation to discipline you.

It is a complicated issue and there is not enough room here to go into the complexities. In the end, the best thing to remember is DON’T BE MEAN ONLINE!   Not only does it hurt other people, but it could come back to hurt you at work too!

Christie Harper, YEU Union Advisor

Straight Talk: That Facebook status is FOREVER!

What happens on Facebook never stays on Facebook, and the internet is forever. If you beak off on Facebook or Twitter (or any public forum) about your boss, your coworkers, your employer or your workplace you may have broken your contract with your employer. If you are fired (and there’s a strong chance you will be), your union can’t do much for you. More and more frequently in recent years, online “off-gassing” has landed irate employees amongst the ranks of the unemployed.

We hear of more and more cases of workers in Canada being fired for online rants & comments unrelated to their employment but offensive in nature and contrary to the  values of their employer.  While this is a fairly new reality, there are a growing number of cases in which employees have lost their jobs for online comments in public forums. A simple first step is ensuring you don’t have your employer listed anywhere in your social media profiles, but that’s not going to be enough if you post or share confidential workplace information online or share racist, homophobic, misogynistic or otherwise offensive posts.

We are a small community in the Yukon; there are few degrees of separation and the comment you make online anonymously or with a made up name is often far less anonymous than you might wish. 

Closed groups on Facebook are not watertight either;  comments made in a closed online group can be copied, shared, printed, screen shot saved and so on.  The best advice is to avoid mentioning your work or clients online and to be very careful of both your privacy settings and of who you have as Facebook friends. When did you last review your Facebook friends list or your Likes? How about Twitter – who follows you there? With so many new social media platforms it’s easy to lose track of the potential impact your posts could have.

Keep in mind that potential employers can find you on social media just as easily as your 4th grade crush. If you haven’t reviewed your privacy settings lately, you might want to take a few minutes to do just that.

There are lots of places to turn when you have a genuine problem in the workplace. Don’t identify your employer in your profile, keep your work issues OFF your social media pages & out of the press, and keep your privacy settings locked down.

Curious about your employer’s social media policy? Contact your HR department. Call your Union if you need help at work; 667-2331