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Facebook fires yoga teacher for telling employee not to use phone during class

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
July 11, 2012

Most people who have attended a yoga class know that turning off their cell phones before the class begins is a no-brainer, lest you feel the wrath of the instructor and your fellow yogis.

But one Facebook employee, who was so determined to check her smart phone during a company yoga class, found herself on the receiving end of a sharp look from the class instructor, Alice Van Ness. Two weeks later, Van Ness who had been teaching yoga classes at the Facebook headquarter office was fired, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

"The culture of these places is to let them do whatever they want," Van Ness tells the newspaper. "And I'm just not really okay with anarchy."

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But can a person be fired for such a seemingly trite cause? And are the laws different in Canada than in the United States?

Janice Rubin, an employer and workplace human rights lawyer at Rubin Thomlinson in Toronto, says it is very possible to fire someone for a trivial reason in Canada.

"Canadian employers are entitled to fire employees because they just don't like them," she says. "They can fire them because they're not suitable. There doesn't have to be a capital-R Reason. It could be simply they don't like their attitude...they don't like the way they conduct a yoga class. They're absolutely within their rights to do that."

Rubin says there are two ways a person can be terminated in Canada. The first is without cause, which means the employee simply wasn't suitable, was a weak performer or  the business was downsizing. In cases like these, which amount to 99 per cent of employee termination in Canada, some compensation is given to the employee. How much depends on how long they've worked at the company.

The second way an employee can be terminated in Canada is with cause.

"That's when the employer maintains you did something so bad that you basically walked away from the employment contract," explains Rubin. Examples of cause could be violence, serious sexual harassment and stealing. In these cases, no compensation is given to the employee.

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Rubin explains that in the U.S., employees are subject to 'at-will' employment, which simply means that if your employer doesn't like you, they can terminate you. You're not entitled to any form of monetary compensation.

If Alice Van Ness had been working in Canada, Rubin feels, based on the information we have about the story, she would have been terminated without cause, which would have entitled her to some form of compensation.

Rubin recalls a case where the employee of a hair salon was warned repeatedly not to wear such low-slung pants — pants that left little to the imagination when viewed from behind. The salon had a dress code and the employee was not complying with it, claimed the owners of the salon. The employee in question was fired with cause (no compensation) for not complying with the dress code.

So there you have it. The yoga teacher would likely have been canned here, too. The difference? In Canada she probably would have been given some money for her troubles.

Watch the video below for three essential yoga poses.

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