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Employment Risks with Viral Communications

Post-match 'man on the street' interviews with supporters of soccer clubs (known as football outside of North America) continue to be dangerous to continued employment and serve as a reminder that one should always consider their audience.

We will recall the Ontario Hydro employee who was terminated following comments he made on live television follow a Toronto FC game several months back which we blogged about previously. Good news for him though: following a union grievance, he was reinstated.

Our most recent example is surprising for the simple reason that the employee who was sacked following his public comments was a partner with an international law firm called Goldberg Segalla. It goes to show that lawyers should always keep abreast of developing trends in the law, lest he or she become a victim of the trend either in the courtroom or personally.

Clive O'Connell is a Chelsea fan and was apparently a fairly high profile partner at the London office of Goldberg Segalla. Following a Chelsea loss to Liverpool in November, Mr. O'Connell was asked by a roving reporter what he thought of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. Whilst voicing his support for Mr. Mourinho, Mr. O'Connell also voiced his dislike for Liverpool supporters, calling them idiots, amongst other things: Telegraph Article with Video

Apparently, this 'interview' gained a degree of notoriety online. Goldberg Segalla is primarily an American firm, and perhaps their appreciation of football culture is different than that of an employer in the UK. The firm acted quite quickly to protect its reputation, terminating its relationship with Mr. O'Connell within days of his video appearing online. The firm felt that Mr. O'Connell's comments were not at all consistent with the firm's values and as such had no choice but to sever ties with Mr. O'Connell. One wonders if the ultimate result was cracking the Liverpool support client base.

This is a very good example of acting to protect a brand or public profile and something that courts in Canada have been receptive to.  For cause terminations come with a high burden for the employer asserting cause.  For an employer to successfully defend a for cause termination like that of Mr. O'Connell they must demonstrate the harm to their reputation, business and standing in the community, amongst other things. It is a context driven analysis. The employer must obviously prove the harm or potential harm flowing from the employee's notorious conduct.

The take away here is that, like your mother said, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. One's fifteen minutes of fame is fleeting, as is one's employment when your poor choice of words goes viral.

For more information about employment law, please contact Eytan B. Rip at 613-563-7544 ext: 6329 or by email [email protected].

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Merovitz Potechin LLP
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