How a racist tirade can ruin your career in the ‘new age’ of technology

In the age of social media and viral internet sensations, questionable images, inflammatory comments or racist outbursts can come back to haunt you more quickly and easily.

In the case of a B.C. woman seen yelling racist remarks at a group of men in a Lethbridge restaurant, just a short couple of hours after a video of her tirade was posted on Facebook, she no longer had a job.

The five-minute video, filmed in a Lethbridge Denny’s in April, shows Kelly Pocha yelling at a group of men at another table. In the video she’s heard yelling, “You are not Canadian,” and, “Go back to your f**king country.”

Wednesday afternoon, Cranbrook Dodge owner Dave Girling, Pocha’s employer, posted on the dealership’s Facebook page that he was “deeply concerned” by the video and the employee in question had been terminated.

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Melanie Peacock, associate professor of human resources at Mount Royal University, said Wednesday she’s not surprised the auto dealership reacted by letting Pocha go.

“More so and more so we’re seeing that people are being terminated for their behaviour that is seen to be inappropriate because you are, as an employee, a brand ambassador of your employer,” Peacock said.

“If the employer didn’t take some action, it would be seen almost to be condoning the behaviour — which isn’t what they’re doing — but a lack of action is seen as inaction.”

WATCH: Video posted to Facebook shows patrons reacting to racist comments

Click to play video: 'Video posted to Facebook shows patrons reacting to racist comments'
Video posted to Facebook shows patrons reacting to racist comments

Peacock said it’s not just racial tirades that can land someone in trouble. She said people should use their “spidey senses” and think about what image is being portrayed, or has the potential to be portrayed, online.

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“Any time you’re about to post a picture of yourself, any time you’re about to post a comment — whether on Facebook or LinkedIn or even Twitter — any time that you’re about to do something in a very public venue, in a very loud way that will draw attention to yourself, you need to stop and think: What are the potential long-term consequences of this? How can this be misconstrued or possibly misinterpreted?”

‘A different age’

An excuse like, “I had no idea that someone would be able to videotape me,” is a weak defence, Peacock said, because whether people like it or not, that’s the way technology is nowadays.

“We certainly live in a different age, and whether we agree with it or not, it’s just known after many circumstances that you could be videotaped very readily and very quickly at any time,” she said.

Pair that easy access to technology with quick and easy access to social media and a video like the one making the rounds online Wednesday can become a viral sensation within a matter of minutes or hours, potentially bringing lifelong consequences to those involved.

Peacock said it’s important that organizations and employers have clear policies and expectations for their employees; “What are and are not acceptable standards of behaviour and what the consequences are when someone does not adhere or uphold acceptable standards of behaviour.”

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WATCH: Hate speech or freedom of speech? University of Calgary professor clarifies why it’s hard to prove

Click to play video: 'Hate speech or freedom of speech? University of Calgary professor clarifies why it’s hard to prove'
Hate speech or freedom of speech? University of Calgary professor clarifies why it’s hard to prove

In addition, Peacock said employees should be given thorough training on what’s expected of them, and have the opportunity to ask any questions or get clarification if they want.

“Organizations are now saying, ‘Look, we’re going to take a stand and we’re just going to show people that this isn’t acceptable behaviour,’” she said.

“And the only way that things are going to change and people will be more cautious of their behaviour in a public setting is by understanding that there are consequences that are going to be upheld.”

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Peacock said the woman at the centre of the video will likely have a hard time finding another job because of the widespread reaction to the video as well as the nature of her comments.

“Just by the nature of what she said and how she conducted herself, it’s clear this is deeply held and rooted belief,” she said. “So it might be difficult for her to find another role.”

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