Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workers' right to harassment-free workplace extends to employer run social media

TTC Customer Service's Twitter page
An arbitrator has ruled the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) must take steps to protect its employees from harassment through TTC-operated social media.
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 113 representing TTC workers, filed a grievance about the employer’s use of social media, including Twitter, “to publish personal information about Local 113 members, to receive and make complaints about Local 113 members, and to solicit public comment with respect of Local 113 members.”
According to testimony at the arbitration hearing, Rocco Signorile, a worker representative, began to keep a closer eye on a TTC-operated Twitter account after a number of workers contacted him to raise concerns about comments that made them feel “intimidated, bullied, harassed and threatened. These comments included racist and homophobic remarks, vulgarity and death threats.”

Signorile was overwhelmed by the amount of public abuse targeted at TTC workers. After failed attempts to seek a meeting about the issue with the TTC, the union filed a policy grievance. They felt the employer was not doing enough to stop the personal attacks.
The Union offered evidence the employer responded to abusive Tweets with empathetic responses for the tweeter rather than objecting to what workers felt was harassing language. In some instances, the employer’s response left the impression they agreed with allegations without first investigating the situation. The union also felt the Twitter account created a forum to discuss employee conduct that could lead to discipline. This, they claimed, violated the collective agreement in terms of keeping disciplinary matters private. 
Among other things, the union sought to have the Twitter account shut down.
In the end, the arbitrator did not direct the TTC to shut down the account suggesting this particular social media outlet provided useful information to customers.
However, in his decision published on July 5, 2016, the arbitrator did find the “TTC has failed to take all reasonable and practical measures to protect bargaining unit employees from the type of harassment by members of the community, as required by the Human Rights Code, the Agreement (Collective) and the Workplace Harassment Policy (based on Occupational Health and Safety Act obligations).”
He directed the TTC to develop a social media policy and for the union and employer to determine next steps. He offered a range of suggestions including the development of standard responses mutually acceptable to the Employer and the Union to assist senior service representatives who respond to Tweets. This, he offered, will help ensure responses don’t violate the collective agreement, the Human Rights Code or statutory obligations.
Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act places significant duties on employers for addressing workplace violence and harassment. The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Training program designed to help workplace parties better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying and to fully comply with the legal obligations. Be sure to check out WHSC’s compliance checklists for employers and workers and fact sheets on workplace violence, harassment and bullying. 
Want to read the decision in the case of ATU Local 113 vs. the TTC?
Need information? Check out WHSC Workplace Violence Resources
To learn more:
Call  1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.