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Social Media Posts Lead to Dismissal

In recent news (and in relation to a post from March 2016), Stephanie Katelnikoff, a female conductor from Calgary, was fired from her job with Canadian Pacific Railway (“CP Rail”) after she posted “racy” photographs of herself via personal social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram. By way of example, one of the photographs features Katelnikoff dressed in a cowgirl outfit, complete with a tank top, shorts, boots, off-shoulder shirt, and cowgirl hat (naturally), while standing provocatively over some railway tracks.

CP Rail determined that Katelnikoff’s conduct violated the company’s code of ethics and internet and email policy. Specifically, CP Rail announced that the conductor’s “termination [was] related to her decision to post photos of herself in unsafe situations on railway property and equipment, committing railway safety violations, along with disparaging remarks regarding the company”. CP Rail added that “[her] termination was not about her posting of personal photos or information per se that were not related in some way to railway safety and CP.”

This case raises the question of how far an employer can go to discipline or even fire an employee for off-duty conduct. There is no indication in the reports that CP Rail used progressive discipline to expressly warn Katelnikoff that the company disapproved of her conduct. Katelnikoff has claimed that the alleged “violations” of the company’s code of ethics were not properly explained to her. It is, therefore, arguable that in the absence of giving Katelnikoff “express and clear” warnings about the social media posts, and a reasonable opportunity to redeem herself (as per Kim v. International Triathlon Union, 2014 BCSC 2151), CP Rail may have acted too hastily in terminating Katelnikoff for her off-duty behaviour.

Not surprisingly, Katelnikoff commenced a grievance against CP Rail through her union (and perhaps a human rights complaint) shortly after termination. As of early 2018, we have yet to see the outcome of this case and can only speculate that more could have been done on CP Rail’s part to warn and discipline this employee.

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