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Technology's Impact on the Employment Relationship

A waitress in North Carolina recently found herself looking for work after posting a complaint about customers on her Facebook page. This is just the latest example of the increasing impact of technology on the employment relationship.
According to published reports, Ashley Johnson was a waitress at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, North Carolina. Apparently she received only a $5 tip from a couple who sat at a table for three hours (and kept her at work for an hour past the end of her shift).
Ms. Johnson felt slighted by the couple and complained about them on her Facebook page. She labeled the customers “cheap” and also identified her employer’s restaurant by name.
She was fired from her job a couple of days later for violating a company policy (banning employees from speaking disparagingly about customers) and for publicly casting the restaurant in a bad light.
As a side note, I have to wonder about any business needing to implement a policy banning employees from speaking disparagingly about customers. That strikes me as a sign they should either take a close look at appealing to a different clientele or finding new employees.
A close read of daily news publications reveals more and more stories similar to Ms. Johnson’s.
Recently in Auckland, New Zealand a news item told the story of Vicki Walker who was fired from her job, in part, because of her “confrontational” emails. Ms. Walker had apparently made a practice of using block capital letters, bold typeface, and red typeface in emails.
Her employer was reported to have viewed her habits, including her email “style”, as creating disharmony in the workplace.
A recent Kelowna newspaper told the story of a spa employee who found out she was fired by reading a message sent by her employer to her Facebook inbox. The employee was offended by receiving such harsh news electronically.
The employer indicated it had tried, unsuccessfully, to contact the employee by telephone with the news of the termination. It wanted to get the firing over with and so resorted to the surefire electronic method.
These are just a few examples of how the presence of modern technologies is having an impact on the employment relationship. The relationship is changing and, perhaps more precisely, the way in which the relationship is conducted (by both sides) is changing.
Ms. Johnson’s situation with Brixx Pizza demonstrates how the easy availability of self-publishing mechanisms like Facebook can lead to trouble. Employees need to understand that posting negative comments about their employer (or their employer’s customers) on the internet is not the same as griping to another person over the telephone.
Whether Ms. Johnson’s conduct would have amounted to just cause for summary dismissal in Canada is perhaps questionable. There can be little doubt, however, that it would have been grounds for some form of disciplinary measures.
Ms. Johnson found out, the hard way, that taking your employment onto the information superhighway can leave you on a one-way street to unemployment.
Robert Smithson is a lawyer in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, or to view past “Legal Ease” columns, log onto