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Virgin Atlantic Dismissed Employee for Facebook Comments

Did you catch the story over the weekend about how Virgin Atlantic dismissed a bunch of employees for making derogatory comments about their employer and the airline’s customers on facebook?  This is a really interesting, developing area of employment law.  On one hand, you might think that what employees do during their non-working hours should not be grounds for dismissal.  On the other hand, if employees are engaging in conduct that can harm the employer’s business interests, then there is a link to the employment.  My employment law students will recall that there is an ‘implied term’ in all employment contracts that employees will at all times act in furtherance of the economic interests of the employer. Making comments on-line that could harm the employer’s business could easily be seen to violate that term, don’t you think?

But what if the comments that employees are making are actually perfectly accurate?  For example, the employees at Virgin wrote on facebook that the engines on a plane had been changed four times, and that there were cockroaches on the planes.  If those claims are in fact true, do you think that the employees should be able to tell the public?  Certainly, ‘consumers’ might want to know that information, and the public interest may not be advanced by forcing employees to keep that information secret.  

It is this sort of balancing between the interests of the employers and the interest of the public in learning about potentially harmful activities of the employer that gave rise to recent developments in the law of ‘whistle-blowing’ in some countries.  The idea is that employees should be protected from dismissal if they publicly disclose information about how their employer is acting illegally or against the public interest.   Here is a short article by NUPGE, a Canadian public sector union, arguing in favour of whistle-blower legislation, and an article by Professor Rowat of Carelton University exploring the issues.

What do you think?  Should employees be permitted to disclose information about their employer’s conduct that is true and potentially harmful to the public?


2 Responses to Virgin Atlantic Dismissed Employee for Facebook Comments

  1. Ryan Reply

    November 3, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I think any whistleblowing legisation should require employees to internally report the issue in question first, before going outside the organization. Only then would employees be protected from dismissal for “telling” on their employer. In this case, it doesn’t look like the employees did that…

  2. Magdalena Mazur Reply

    November 3, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Perhaps Facebook wasn’t the most appropriate place to disclose such information, but if employee and public safety is a relevant concern,
    then whistle-blowing should be a protected right for everyone. If such legislation would be upheld by law, then maybe employers would be more careful and concerned about illegal practices.

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