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Badmouthing Your Employer (A.K.A. Talking Your Way Out Of A Job)

Employees sometimes feel an uncontrollable urge to speak frankly about their feelings for their employer. If they do this in any kind of a public forum, they may be talking their way out of a job.
 
Just ask General Stanley McChrystal. General McChrystal was, until recently, the commander of the American armed forces in Afghanistan.
 
He was, that is, until an article appeared in Rolling Stone magazine quoting his comments concerning his boss (President Obama) and the American war effort in Afghanistan. The article, by Michael Hastings, was entitled “The Runaway General”.
 
In the article, General McChrystal was quoted saying, among other things, that President Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated”
during a meeting with military officials at the Pentagon. He was also quoted as referring to one aspect of the Afghanistan military operation as a “bleeding ulcer”.
 
He was quoted as conceding that, while the Taliban may no longer have the initiative in Afghanistan, “I don't think we do, either”. Other members of General McChrystal's team were quoted making critical and arguably insulting comments about a variety of people associated with the war in Afghanistan.
 
While perhaps not shocking in their content, these are, for certain, the type of comments that can cause the most powerful man in the world to work up a head of steam. The result for General McChrystal was an invitation from President Obama to Washington for the kind of chat that seemed likely to end in the delivery of a pink slip.
 
That it did. President Obama removed General McChrystal from his post, emphasizing the degree to which the remarks undermined the “civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.”
 
A little closer to home, a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision confirmed that publicly lambasting your employer may be considered a firing offence.
 
Yingyi Chen worked as a production manager at Sable Fish Canada on Salt Spring Island. Over a period of time, Chen's performance and conduct became a problem for his employer with the result that he was removed from his position.
 
Chen prepared a letter and sent it to some 40 people (some of whom were shareholders in the company). In the letter, Chen complained that he was unfairly demoted and had been replaced by someone who was unqualified.
 
He challenged his employer's attention to safety, claiming an employee was almost killed. His letter suggested the existence of a large degree of discontent among the staff, called the company's management “disastrous” and claimed that it “punished” productive employees.
 
As a result of his letter, Chen was summarily dismissed from his employment. And (since it wouldn't be much of a story without a lawsuit) he sued Sable Fish Canada for wrongful dismissal.
 
At trial, the Court sided firmly with the employer, calling Chen's statements “exaggerated, disrespectful, and inflammatory”. The Court felt that his letter was “clearly an attempt, in part, to embarrass both management and the board of directors”.
 
The Court stated that Chen had gone over the head of his immediate supervisor and the president and even to company's board of directors.He “sent out the letter in blind faith and hope that it may reach some shareholders without regard to who else may receive the letter and without any regard to the harm it may cause the company”.
 
As you might have guessed, the Court found that Chen's actions amounted to just cause for summary dismissal. His claim for damages for wrongful dismissal was rejected.
 
The moral of these stories is that it doesn't matter whether you're a worker at a fish plant in B.C. or the top general in the U.S. Army - if you publicly badmouth your employer, you'll likely have talked yourself out of a job.
 
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 www.pushormitchell.com