North Vancouver City Mosquito Creek Bank Subsidence

Posted by Johannes Schenk on May 18th, 2007 — Posted in Municipal Law

I note that the City of North Vancouver will be holding an information meeting on May 24, 2007, relating to Mosquito Creek bank subsidence. There was an article in the North Shore News last week about the City’s response and handling of the matter. I understand that the City is pointing the finger at home owners. That somehow doesn’t quite seem right to me as the subsiding land appears to be City property. It is also hard to imagine that any of the affected homes were built and sited without a City permit.

Without further examining the matter, the City seems to be offloading its responsibility in the matter to affected homeowners. The basic law in this area is that a landowner, in most instances, has a right to lateral support. That principle may apply in the case of your neighbor’s (the City’s) subsiding creek bank. Given the expense owners are going to face rectifying the situation some kind of cost sharing program should be entered into at a minimum.

Affected home owners should attend the May 24, 2007, meeting and carefully question the City’s intentions with regard to stabilizing Mosquito Creek bank. I would hope that the City lives up to its obligations and treats affected homeowners in a fair manner and according to the law.

Dooced

Posted by Johannes Schenk on May 18th, 2007 — Posted in Employment Law, Labour Law

The term “Dooced” refers to termination for work related blogging and was coined by Heather Armstrong after she was fired for blogging about her work and co-workers. Other cases of fired bloggers include Delta Airlines flight attendant Ellen Simonetti writing “Queen of the Sky Blog” and Sparks Tribune reporter Tom Darby writing “Tom Uses His Words”. Well known companies that have purportedly fired employees for blogging include Wells Fargo, Friendster. and Waterstone book store. Canadian organizations terminating bloggers include a Toronto Starbucks, Nunavut Tourism and the Manitoba Health Science center.

The most recent case to make international headlines in this area concerns Catherine Sanderson, a secretary working for the British accounting firm, Dixon Wilson, in Paris and writing “La Petite Anglaise”, an on-line Bridget Jones-like diary. She was terminated by the firm for blogging that referenced her workplace and for other reasons that included blogging while at work, referring to a sexual interlude, and for making comments about her work that could bring the firm into disrepute. The French tribunal overturned the dismissal and awarded Ms. Sanderson 44,000 euros in damages and her legal costs.

The cases all have in common (to a greater or lesser degree) an anonymous employee that vents about some workplace related matter. The employee’s identity is discovered and the company dismisses the employee on the basis of disrepute brought onto the company’s reputation.

“Le Petite Anglaise” appears to be an exception where the employee was awarded damages for the dismissal. The tribunal seems to have found that the blogging content was unrelated to the workplace and not detrimental to the employer’s reputation.

The Canadian cases are most relevant for the purpose of this discussion, but in general it can be said that if an employee is prepared to make a negative comment about the workplace, co-workers or management, termination will be justified. The larger issues at hand concern freedom of speech, off work site conduct, and employee fidelity. As an employee, if you are prepared to publicly air your discontent with the employer you should be prepared for dismissal. As an employer, you should allow your employees the right to express themselves within the confines of expression that they would otherwise be entitled to.

It’s difficult to know where to draw the line; blogging and the workplace is becoming something of an issue. For employers, the easiest way to determine an appropriate response to an employee’s blogging is to consider the conduct as if it were in an off-line context. Employees should not use company time to blog about personal matters, nor for any work-related blogging in the nature of the following:

  • complaining about company procedure or management decisions,
  • denigrating management personnel or co-workers,
  • revealing ongoings in the office ranging from the Christmas party to the annual picnic,
  • discussing personal matters revealed in confidence.

    It goes without saying that open disagreement with company policy, revealing trade secrets, profiting from company property on-line, criticizing a customer or engaging in illegal on-line conduct would in many cases warrant an outright dismissal. As an employee, if you shouldn’t be doing it, then you shouldn’t be doing it on the web.

    What you have to remember is that blogging and the internet don’t form the basis of the impugned conduct, they but they will amplify the conduct in terms of time and person contacts: the right kind of blog will disseminate offending information faster and to more people than any newspaper or television channel possibly could. The internet is interactive and employers need to vigilant about borderline or minor issues quickly amplifying into larger ones.
    The employer’s need to be vigilant isn’t just about protecting the company’s reputation. Consider liability to shareholders that see a drop in value due to rumours and innuendo spreading on the internet about a key company product. Liability based on damage to an employee’s reputation harmed by unchecked workplace related blogging harassment is another possible scenario. As an employer you can’t let improper employee conduct go unchecked on or off-line.

    Dealing with a blogging employee is much easier when you have a blogging policy in place. A policy should deal with issues such as anonymity, delineation between the views of the company and the blogger, work place confidentiality, respect for co-workers, management and customers, misuse of company resources, copyright and defamation issues and consequences of a policy breach.

    Finally as an employer you need to use good judgement based on sound employment law principles and advice to deal with the wayward blogger. If in doubt act cautiously, be fair and consistent and seek advice from someone that can help you deal with the issue in a cost effective and preventative manner.

  • “La Petit Anglaise” Wins Her Case

    Posted by Johannes Schenk on May 1st, 2007 — Posted in Employment Law

    An interesting case that is making headlines from France. Catherine Sanderson was working as a secretary for Anglo-French accounting firm Dixon Wilson in Paris. In 2004 she started writing an anonymous blog, La Petit Anglaise, that made reference to the office and was fired sometime in 2006. She sued her employer and recently won her case to the tune of 44,000 euros and costs.

    There have been a number of “fired blogger” cases that have made the headlines over the last few years. “La Petit Anglaise” has made the biggest splash and is one of the few cases that resulted in a damage award to the employee that I am aware of. The matter is still up for appeal and may not yet be a closed story.