Firing employee got Hydro One a lot of publicity; if it’s for cause that’s a bonus
By Howard Levitt
It doesn’t matter, in my view, whether or not Hydro One has a good legal case. It has just taken out a very inexpensive national advertisement, particularly for women, as a great place to work and a top tier company to do business with. Hydro One, Ontario’s power company, will now be associated in the public mind with respect for women and with human rights.
That is because one of its employees was fired for hurling an on-camera obscene and derogatory epithet to CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt.
In the past year, in an increasing race to the bottom, men (and women) have captured themselves making the same vulgar remark on air. But in this case, it was before a live camera after a Toronto Football Club soccer game at BMO Field and a video posted online was met with condemnation. The public’s attention was riveted.
Hydro One quickly announced the employee would be fired because his conduct violated the public utility’s Code of Conduct.
But is this cause for discharge? That depends on a number of factors:
Did this employee sign the Code?
If he did not, can Hydro One prove he was even aware of? Or is it one of hundreds of policies that he would have seen and quickly forgotten?
Did the policy make violation of it cause for discharge?
Whatever the policy says, is the conduct objectively cause for discharge? In other words, would this miscreant’s stupid, possibly drunken, conduct actually damage the image of Hydro One. If he was an executive, certainly. If he is a sales representative or an employee who represents Hydro One’s brand, it will similarly likely be cause. If he is someone who must interact internally and externally with many women who now are uncomfortable dealing with him, it may well be cause for discharge. But otherwise, it will not be.
If this employee is young, has not been employed long and holds a junior position, what will it cost Hydro One to fire him without cause. Probably only two or three months’ severance — a small price to pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of free, positive advertising the power company has just captured.
This case has an antecedent. During the Vancouver hockey riots, many of the rioters’ photos were posted on social media and they were fired by their employers. However, none of those employers received the publicity Hydro One has just garnered. If it indeed has cause for discharge, that is just a bonus.
Employers and employees should always consider the public relations aspects of a discharge, what skeletons it may unleash and what hidden advantages might reside in the termination’s wake. It is a factor I always consider in providing advice to clients.