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Don Cherry's poppy case teaches employees (and employers) a lesson

© Infopowered Solutions Inc., 2019-11-13

This week’s unceremonious end to Don Cherry’s long reign as pro hockey’s outspoken analyst extraordinaire sparks a number of important discussions about discrimination, implicit bias, nationalism and freedom. Socially less significant but individually crucial is the lesson that Cherry’s predicament teaches all employees, regardless of their careers:

Our opinions, regardless of the intents behind them, can get us in a whole bunch of trouble.

On his pre-Remembrance Day Saturday night rant, Cherry pounded home his point that Canadians should wear poppies as a demonstration of our gratitude for the sacrifices made by brave Armed Forces veterans in the defence of our freedom. If his commentary had ended there, all would have likely been well but, sadly, it didn’t. He went on to suggest that immigrants don’t wear poppies and, by implication, aren’t grateful for our Canadian way of life. A few days later, amidst a storm of social media responses, Cherry’s employer announced that he was no longer employed.

The dumping of this iconic Canadian isn’t the first instance of an employee being sacked for saying the wrong thing in the public sphere, and it serves as a sobering reminder to all of us that the opinions we express in this high-tech world of electronic connection can ignite massive, fast-burning controversy that causes widespread devastation. Remember, as just a few more examples, these poor choices of public expression:

Sacco was a senior director of corporate communications in 2013 when she hastily posted this Tweet on her way to South Africa. While she was enroute, her post stoked major backlash, and she was fired before her flight landed.

In the case of Adria Richards, one of the employees she photographed and Tweeted about was fired from his job and, in turn, that kindled a revenge bullying campaign against Richards herself. Ultimately, Richards was also fired by her employer, which said:

Effective immediately, @adriarichards has been terminated from @sendgrid. For more details, please see

— SendGrid (@SendGrid) March 21, 2013

While there are a number of lessons to be learned from the case of Don Cherry and poppies, two of them apply especially in employment relationships:

1. For employees: Remember that opinions expressed in any form of social media can have far-reaching and permanent consequences. While controversial statements might earn you some attention on social media, it’s attention that may be ultimately damaging to you and others.

2. For employers: Your employees are likely using social media.* In order to reduce the number and extent of risks that come from that use, you should carefully and creatively construct a social media policy and education program that sets parameters for employees’ online conduct.

At Infopowered, we’re interested in effective, data-driven solutions to workplace problems. If you’d like to discuss implementing an effective workplace social media program in your organization, please contact us!


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