Former dealership employee faces cyberbully warning over online postings

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SYDNEY, N.S. – A Nova Scotia man was issued a warning by provincial authorities that his online postings about the dealership where he used to work are considered cyberbullying.

The Chronicle Harold first reported that the owners of Cape Breton Hyundai contacted CyberScan, Canada's first cyberbullying investigative unit, in response to the online actions of former employee Rob Romard.

According to reports, Romard was terminated from a service position at the dealership in 2013. He told the paper he was denied employment insurance benefits despite having launched several appeals.

The former employee reportedly took to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook following his dismissal with an illustration depicting the owners as bullies and to issue numerous claims that he had been poisoned at work.

He went on to say he suffered several adverse health issues while undercoating vehicles, though it is noted he lacks any formal medical diagnosis.

Cape Breton Hyundai owners Dan Keough and George MacEachern deny Romard was let go because of complaints related to undercoating, saying instead he was let go with just cause.

Keough told the paper the store turned to the province because they were concerned the volume and nature of the personal attacks online would affect the reputation of the store and cost them business.

Canadian AutoWorld made contact with the owners who did not wish to discuss matter under the advice of legal council.

One dealership staff member with knowledge of the matter said what was reported by the media was just the “tip of the iceberg” regarding the volume and spirit of the online postings. Much of the vitriol directed at the store was reportedly shared in a Facebook group called The Real Cape Breton Rant Room.

In 2013, Nova Scotia passed the Cyber-safety Act, the first legislation of its kind in Canada that protects the victims of cyberbullying and makes those responsible accountable under the law.

Instead of having to rely solely on police pursuing criminal action, the act gives victims and their families new civil options including seeking protection or prevention orders and suing cyberbullies for damages.

Romard said he received a letter from the Nova Scotia Department of Justice signed by director of public safety Roger Merrick in late February.

The letter informs that an investigation has concluded his actions “do constitute cyberbulling as defined in the legislation.”

It also directs him to remove all communications related to Keough and MacEachern within 48 hours of receiving the letter. The warning noted that the province could secure a court order to enforce the ruling and restrict his use of electronic communication and “discontinuance of Internet service” to prevent further cyberbullying.

As of late March, a check of a Twitter account registered to @romardrob from Cape Breton had some related posts including an image of the letter sent by the province. The caption read: “The bullying continues, they got caught poisoning me at work and this is how @nsgov handles it.”

Stuart Rudner of Rudner MacDonald LLP and expert in employment law said the challenge with this type of situation is that in most respects, a former employee is just like any other member of the general public.

“The organization has no more ability to control them than they do to control anyone else. The situation is different if, for example, the parties have entered into some sort of agreement whereby the individual has agreed to limitations upon their future conduct, such as a non-disparagement covenant,” he says.

If there is such an agreement and the employee breaches it, then the organization can sue for breach of contract or, in particularly unusual circumstances, seek an injunction to stop the individual’s conduct.

In the absence of such an agreement, it is no different than an unhappy customer taking to the Internet with their comments. The organization can pursue a civil claim for defamation, or respond as the company did in this case.

“Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to control someone’s online conduct, whether they are a former employee or otherwise,” he says.

- With files from The Cape Breton Chronicle Herald