Employers must now protect workers from online harassment

The case spanned over three years and involved TTC Twitter account @TTChelps.
The case spanned over three years and involved TTC Twitter account @TTChelps. (Photo: Twitter/Toronto Transit Comission)

The Toronto Transit Commission was recently reprimanded by an Ontario arbitrator for failing to protect employees from online harassment.

According to the decision, employers have a duty to protect workers from harassment, not only at the workplace but also on social media if the employer has an online presence.

The case spanned over three years and involved a TTC Twitter profile called @TTChelps. The profile was launched in 2012 for the purpose of taking in questions and complaints from the public.

Unfortunately, some TTC customers used the online forum to heap abuse on employees, which included racist, homophobic and abrasive comments.

Fed up with all the abuse they were forced to deal with, employees filed a grievance against the TTC in 2013, for failing to protect them from harassment. The union which represented the TTC employees in the case claimed that the TTC was “providing a forum for haters and abusers to heap abuse” but failed to “effectively deal with that abuse.”

The way the TTC dealt with vile tweets was to ask customers to refrain from making abusive comments and acknowledged the customers frustration. The arbitrator found this response inadequate, and that the TTC often ignored abusive language and helped abusive customers make complaints against employees.

The arbitrator explained that an adequate response would have been for the TTC respond that it won’t tolerate offensive tweets, tell the customers to delete the abusive tweets immediately, and block tweeters that refuse to comply.

The TTC also defended itself by saying that it had a right to establish an online presence to deal with the public. The arbitrator didn’t disagree but said that if an employer established a social media presence they must protect employees on those forums.

The TTC is by no means the only employer to receive abusive online communications from customers; companies like WestJet Airlines and Air Canada have received their fair share of abuse. However, it seems to be the first to be held responsible for social media attacks against its employees.

The case has now established that it is an employer’s duty to protect their employees from social media attacks, and it may well change the way employers deal with offensive tweets and Facebook posts directed against employees.

Find a Lawyer