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Another year has gone by and another holiday season has passed. All of us here at Nelligan O’Brien Payne hope that you had a restful time with friends and family, and have returned to work with a new sense of enthusiasm!

As many of us are avid users of social media – including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, personal blogs and LinkedIn – the holidays is a time when we tend to update our status, post pictures and comments, and generally increase our activity on such networks. However, you need to make sure that what you share with others doesn’t come back to haunt you in the new year, or lead to undesirable employment outcomes.

Although privacy laws exist, when you choose to share something with others through the Internet, you are giving permission to people around the world to read or view what you have shared. These people may include your colleagues, your managers, or even your clients. One thing you should consider prior to posting something is whether your employer has a social media policy in place; if so, you should be familiar with the policy. If your employer does not have such a policy, don’t take that to mean that you are free to do whatever you want without the threat of any repercussions. Even without a specific social media policy in place, your employer should nevertheless have anti-violence and/or anti-harassment policies that may become relevant depending on your use of social media networks.

If the comments that you publish reflect poorly on your employer or the company for which you work, your posts could result in discipline or even dismissal, depending on their severity and how long you’ve been posting such things. Examples of things you should avoid include: the use of derogatory comments about a particular supervisor or director of the company, ridiculing your co-workers, expressing contempt for your managers, and posts that are discriminatory or could be deemed to be harassment. If your comments are so damaging or have so poisoned the workplace that it would no longer be possible for you to work harmoniously and productively with the other employees of the company, this may also lead to you losing your employment. Your situation will only be made worse if actual names are used, including the name of your employer.

The position you hold will almost certainly be a factor, as any post or action deemed incompatible with your position is more likely to lead to discipline and possibly termination. If your conduct is subject to greater scrutiny by the public, what you do off duty will become more relevant to your employment.

Even though you may have established privacy settings on the information or pictures you have chosen to share, once something is on the Internet, it can always be found. Without these settings, arguably anyone in the world with access to the Internet can read its content. Whether someone from your company has read your post is not generally as important as the content of your post and its accessibility to others.

The use of social media may do more harm than good if used improperly. This is also true for purposes of your employment. Once your comments are posted online, they are in the public domain and you have effectively lost control over who can read them. Of course, each case will be very fact-specific, but if you have to ask yourself “should I post this?”, the answer is likely “no”.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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