Yes, you can be fired for offensive online posts

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Industrial relations changed while the pandemic crept through TT. It changed while those practised in the old ways slept or held fast to standards of generations past. Whoever first cynically noted that "out of evil cometh good” must have been sitting on the sidelines nodding as they watched the industrial relations landslide begin to rumble and gather momentum last week.

The evil that began it was casual slander that exposed a seam of racism that has long run under politics, culture and society in Trinidad’s “rainbow culture.” It manifested itself in Facebook posts, political ads and outward manifestations of inward attitudes on the part of many people of many races, religions and states of self-deception.

Notably, it was spread by many people who use Facebook or Instagram to excitedly and safely send on those offensive comments so that those of us who missed them first time around can join in the hate fest. It gives some people a kind of “high” like those that other people get from drugs or non-stop whining and complaining. It is usually a way people with low self-esteem use to make themselves feel big by making others feel small, a methodology popularised by the man who tweets every morning, a man by the name of Trump.

You may have heard of him. He is not highly regarded among educated and thoughtful people generally, but there are those who think, as he does, that the way to prestige and power is to use racism, sexism or ethnicity as weapons. Well, it worked for him. And apparently there are people in TT who use him as a role model by imitating his attitudes and behaviour on social media.

But let’s face it, you have to be pretty naive or appallingly uninformed not to know that anything you say online can be discovered and displayed. And will go viral if it lacks judgement or could offend.

One of my very early and very wise mentors told me, “Never put anything on the internet that you don’t want to appear in the papers the next day.” It saved me from a lot of potentially embarrassing disclosures of my own youthful indiscretions.

So I try not to be judgemental when other people are indiscreet or foolish. But in my current incarnation as an industrial relations consultant I cannot always avoid it, especially when employers call to ask how and if they can fire employees who have posted racist or sexist or ethnic slurs on Facebook, especially if clients or customers see them and complain.

Well, you can.

If there is solid evidence that by expressing offensive posts, they have cost the company business, as happened with Ramsaran's Dairy Products – they lost five major customers and retailers as a result (though the boycott has since been lifted). That may have been harsh, but it is one of those times when “out of evil cometh good,” because it has now become perfectly clear that racism is not to be tolerated in professional life nor is sexism or the snide use of ethnic slurs.

The new normal is not something that is going to happen. It has happened.

In case one has not noticed, the murder of George Floyd has changed the entire world. This is the new normal.

Racism is no longer being tolerated. Whether that is anti-black, anti-Indian, anti-white, anti-dougla, anti-Chinese or even everyone’s favourite, anti-Syrian.

Once you let it be known that you suffer from that kind of dysfunction, the possibility that it might offend your co-workers, clients, suppliers, customers, patients or members of the public – which it sooner or later probably will – will make it probable grounds for disciplinary action.

Claiming that you did not intend to offend will not cut it. Your intention is not what makes the difference.

Ignorance of the law is also no excuse.

Even if it is done anonymously it may alert your employer to start looking for possible evidence of it at work.

And if there is solid evidence, it may be used as grounds for dismissal.

This is not the fifties; this is the new normal.

And to reinforce the new normal, a deputy commissioner of police reminded the entire population via the media last week that there are three laws – the Sedition Act, the Offences Against the Persons Act and the Summary Offences Act – that make it a chargeable offence to foment hatred on the basis of race, colour, religion, calling or employment.

These are existing laws that state that you can be charged for raising or engendering ill-will or hostility against a person or a group of persons by means of gestures, posts, or any other way that can be reasonably expected to cause a person distress or alarm. The Constitution guarantees you freedom of expression, but it will not protect you from breaking the law or fomenting social disorder.

There is a new department of the police set up to trace these offences and to charge people guilty of committing all aspects of cyber-crime. The deputy commissioner was very calm, reasoned and authoritative as he spoke. He really meant what he said.

If it takes the fear of unemployment and the fear of police action to begin to erase the evil of entrenched racism from our culture. that is the good that will move us at last to implementing the objective of every creed and race finding an equal place.


"Yes, you can be fired for offensive online posts"

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