Wondering if you can get fired for posting something on Facebook and other social media?
The majority of people believe that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech, protects their right to say anything they want, online or off. This is true when it comes to the government. Within limits, the government may not tell us what we can say or what we can’t. But there is no such restriction that applies to Private Employers.
In short, yes, you can be fired for what you post on social media like Facebook or any other site. However, there are certain laws that limit the extent of an employer’s right to fire or discipline employees for what they post online.
Limitations to an Employer’s Right to Fire an Employee over Social Media Posts
Luckily private employers can’t discipline or fire employees for anything that they dislike on their employee’s social media. There are laws that limit an employer’s right to discipline or fire employees for the content that they post online. The restrictions, however, are dependent on what it is that is written about.
Protected Concerted Activities: The National Labor Relations Act that governs the relationship between the company’s management and unions, protects the rights of employees to communicate with each other about the terms and conditions of their employment. This right is subject to whether the workplace is unionized or not. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that imposes the Act, in recent times, has displayed a special interest in enforcing this right against employers who discipline their employees for the content they post online.
A group of employees who make comments about the working conditions or criticize the management on social media may be found to be protected concerted activity. The employees may not be disciplined or fired for this.
Political Messages: A select few states protect their employees from discipline on the basis of their political beliefs and activities. In such states, if an employee is disciplined or fired for expressing political views online, he/she may have a legal claim against the employer.
Off-duty Posts: Few states forbid employers from disciplining employees for what they do in their personal time. This is as long as those activities are legal. In states like these, an employee may be protected from discipline for online posts.
Retaliation: There are a number of federal and state laws that protect employees from retaliation due to reporting certain types of problems (harassment, discrimination, unsafe working conditions, etc,). If an employer takes action against an employee who reports a problem online, that could constitute illegal retaliation.
What’s Okay for You to Post, Like or Share
An employer cannot fire an employee for venting on social media. Employees are allowed to vent. If they post about finding it difficult to work or how they find the work environment unpleasant, they can’t be fired for that.
The government protects workers’ rights to talk about where they work even if it is insulting and harsh. Whether it is work hours, pay, assignments, dress code, or tough supervisors, it’s illegal for an employee to be fired on these grounds.
What’s Not Okay to Like, Share or Post
The NLRB upholds firing that is based on posts that damage a company, trivialize their products and services, reveal trade secrets or financial information. Posts that encourage subordination as well are not protected.
Employees can be fired for posting information about customers or clients. Employees are not protected against homophobic, racist, sexist posts or posts that discriminate against religion. The NLRB does not protect employees against posts that are not related to working conditions. For example, posts ridiculing the way the boss or a co-worker looks, speaks or dresses are not protected.
Incidents where people have got fired for what they posted on Facebook
Here are some incidents from the past where workers have gotten fired for posting on social media:
1. “First day at work. Omg (oh my God)!! So dull!!”
Kimberly Swann was fired for posting about her job on the first day of work. Three weeks later, the message made its way to the upper management, and she was fired.
2. “Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete hitman? Yes, it’s been that kind of day.”
Gloria Gadsden, a professor of East Stroudsburg University got fired for posting a status a few days after the Feb 12 shooting at the University of Alabama.
3. “S__! Anyone know how to pass a drug test in 24 hours?”
A prospective employee at a company who was supposed to pass a drug test and a physical test posted this, after which the offer was withdrawn.
4. A guy once made a post talking about wanting to go home and play The Sims so he could create the telecommunication store that he worked at in the game and then slowly kill off all the customers. The post was made while he was working on a late night shift. He later got fired for it.
Now that you know what is safe and what is not safe to comment, like or post on Facebook and other social media, you can fight for your rights if falsely accused. Employers often scan their prospective candidates’ Facebook profiles to get a glimpse of their personality before hiring. If you have any sexist or racist comments on Facebook, it’s best to delete them before you head for an interview.
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