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Teachable moment for ESPN anchor after commenting on Zack Whitecloud’s name.

I want to talk about something that happened last week during this year’s NHL playoffs. Now, I always love it when I get to combine hockey and HR law into one story. So, as you can see in the headline here, ESPN anchor Josh Anderson is describing a goal scored by the Las Vegas Golden Knights, by Zack Whitecloud, who’s an Indigenous player.

And what he said was, “what kind of a name is Whitecloud? Great name if you’re a toilet paper.” Obviously this is completely inappropriate, completely offensive. Not surprisingly there was a an immediate backlash, but what I like about this story is that we didn’t see the cancel culture emerge as we so often do.

Anderson wasn’t immediately fired. He wasn’t immediately taken off the air. From what we read in the media, he spoke with Whitecloud, he apologized publicly, and I give Whitecloud a lot of credit for his approach to this, and I look at this quote in particular, where Whitecloud says, “I think it was an attempt at humor that came out as being obviously insensitive.”

And he goes on to say “people make mistakes. And this is a scenario where not just John, but everyone can learn from and move forward in a positive direction.” In other words, use this as a learning experience, not as an opportunity to cancel someone else and essentially end their career. So hopefully Anderson’s apology was genuine. Hopefully he is not going to say anything similar in the future. And if that is true, I’m glad he was not canceled or fired.

Now, I often talk about just cause for dismissal. I’ve written a book on the subject right here. It’s called You’re Fired, just Cause for Dismissal in Canada. Hopefully that didn’t come out back backwards, but I think it might have.

Anyways, it’s called You’re Fired. It talks all about when somebody can be fired in Canada, which is very different than the US, and among other things in Canada, if you’re fired without cause, you can be entitled to substantial severance up to two years. I know it’s different in the United States, so in Canada it’s going make a huge difference if you’re fired with cause or without cause.

And as I always say, one of the important things to understand when you’re assessing whether you can fire somebody for cause is you don’t just look at what they did in isolation. You look at a whole bunch of factors, including how they responded when they’re confronted with the allegations. If they’re apologetic, if they provide a reasonable assurance that it’s not going to happen again, if they haven’t done similar things in the past, then in most cases they’re going to be given another chance. That said, if they are unapologetic, if they lie about it, if they refuse to accept any, any responsibility, then summary dismissal is more likely to be appropriate. The ultimate question is whether the employment relationship has been irreparably harmed, or whether it can be salvaged. And cancel culture doesn’t always align with employment law, at least in Canada.

That’s all for today.

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