A considerable chunk of our communication takes place on social media platforms. And sometimes we get fired up about politics or other touchy subjects we wouldn’t normally talk about at work. But can what you say on social media be grounds for being fired?
Here’s what I know from years of HR experience:
As a general rule, one can be fired because of what one says on social media if it leads to fostering a hostile work environment or is seen as detrimental to the company’s image. Additionally, in at-will states, employees can be let go at any time for any reason.
So your best strategy is to keep your social profiles private and don’t add co-workers to your social channels. That way, no one associated with your job can see what you post.
While it seems unfair, the reality is that many people have been fired and are being fired because of what they shared on social media.
The devil is in the details.
Unless what you’ve shared is extreme or offensive, you don’t have to worry. But seeing as most employment is at-will employment, the implication is that an employer could fire you for any reason. It’s smart to be professional with your public social media accounts.
In this article, we’ll explore your legal rights in the context of social media use in the workplace, whether social media policies are legal, whether employers can check your social media accounts, and other issues around whether social media use can be the basis for being given the pink slip.
Let’s get started…
Can you use social media to hire the right employees?
Absolutely! Referral-based recruiting meets direct sourcing. Your employees have an amazing talent network to draw from. Access it.
— Nadine Greiner, PhD (@DrNadineGreiner) June 21, 2021
Should social media affect hiring and firing?
Social media can affect hiring and firing because companies naturally want employees whose values reflect the company’s values. And if social media posts conflict with that, it can affect hiring or lead to termination.
Some applicants deliberately curate their image on social media. Even in these cases, a deeper insight into their real nature can be gleaned from their posts, pictures, and feed.
Of course, this shouldn’t be the main criteria employed in the hiring and firing process, but almost everyone is on social media these days. It’s an invaluable source of data that should be mined.
Social media is already being leveraged as a tool in the hiring and firing process.
It doesn’t reveal the “total” portrait of an applicant or employee because, at times, some content posted on social media are examples of posturing or virtue signaling, and there are also some that are probably posted when the person is triggered or overwhelmed.
It should affect hiring and firing, as an example, it is excellent for conducting background checks to see if an applicant can easily adapt to a company’s culture.
But it should simply be one of the criteria employed and shouldn’t have too much weight since other data sources provide more robust insight into an applicant’s capabilities.
And when they’ve been hired, an employee’s performance, attendance, and interpersonal ability should carry a lot more weight than social media posts!
— Elisa Ferrell (@ElisaFerrell12) June 17, 2021
What are my legal rights related to social media in the workplace?
While off-work, employees are not protected by the first amendment if the company feels a social media post violates its own policies, could lead to hostility in the workplace or shows the company in a detrimental light.
Of course, employees are also not expected to be using social media during office hours unless that is what they are hired to do.
An employee’s legal rights vary from state to state.
But on the whole, because employers are concerned about issues such as cyberattacks, confidentiality breaches, and time-wasting on the part of employees, employees are not expected or allowed to use social media in the workplace.
However, the law allows you and others to come together and engage in certain collective activity to complain about labor conditions.
You’re free to do whatever you want when you’re off work, as long as you’re not doing stuff that’d put your employer in disrepute or hurt the brand.
Of course, it’s smart to be professional even when you’re not at work.
You need to be very careful if you’re in an at-will state (because you can be fired for any reason, as long as it’s not illegal). On the whole, unless your posts are extreme or offensive, you have nothing to fear.
Can you get fired over the phone?
That’s the theme of a recent article of mine where I examined all the best and worst ways managers should communicate with employees if they are being let go. And while in-person conversations are always best, there’s 1 instance where you could even get fired over email or text!
Just click the link to read it on my site.
— Recruitment News UK (@RecruitNewsUK) February 14, 2020
Are social media policies legal?
Social media policies are completely legal. Companies are free to create any policies they see fit for the operation of their business as long as it does not violate federal or state labor laws.
So if you know you have a controversial social media style, it would be best to choose employers that you know are aligned with your values.
Social media policies must take into account the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, The Fair Labor Standards Act, and other acts that govern workplace interactions between employers and employees.
So, companies need to have social media policies that serve as a guideline that employees can use to know what and what’s not allowed and for them to appreciate how far-reaching their posts and comments can be. But, these policies are not necessarily legally binding unless they comply with the provisions of the law.
In practice, the social media policy would exist within the framework of the company’s HR policies and would be documented in the employee handbook.
While the policies are not legally binding (unless they expressly comply with the provisions of the law), it’s vital to note that an employee may be given a pink slip for any reason in at-will states.
Does this mean an employee can be fired for gossiping?
In a recent article of mine, I get into all the details of that, including the 1 sure-fire way something fairly innocent can get you fired instantly.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
As an employer, what are your rights for terminating employees who engage in offensive acts or post objectionable content on social media? Our blog explains: https://t.co/pFXkVxXTrx #employmentlaw #HR pic.twitter.com/cbFx2PvwXJ
— Simon | Paschal PLLC (@SimonPaschalLaw) June 9, 2021
Do employees have the right to use social media to make negative statements about their employers?
Employees have the right to use social media collaboratively to complain about labor conditions. This is different from making negative statements about their employers. The latter is a bit subjective and may incur the employer’s wrath if it is deemed too offensive or extreme.
But it would ALWAYS be better to take your complaints to your boss directly rather than posting them on social media.
And if you don’t trust your boss will handle it well, you should look for another job with a company with a higher level of integrity and professionalism.
Online discussions by employees, as a group, working together to improve the conditions under which they work is protected by law. This does not cover an individual’s quest for better working conditions but rather when many employees work together on issues they all stand to benefit from. “Personal gripes” are not protected.
Employees’ off-duty posts relating to their religion, race, and political opinions are also protected.
Employees may be able to get away with some negative statements if they are expressed within the ambit of concerted activity to improve employee welfare.
It would probably be disregarded if it is not too offensive or extreme.
But, if it is, it’s vital to note that in at-will states, the employer can dismiss employees for any reason and even for no reason!
So, there’s a need to be careful about what’s expressed and how it’s expressed, even if it’s for a good cause.
Interesting stat: “employees are looking to their organizations to make things right.
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 75% of people say they trust their employers to do what is right.’
— Geoff Raczkiewicz (@graczkie) December 24, 2019
Can employers look at your social media?
It is legal for employers to check employee’s public social media accounts. In fact, in some states, they can ask for the password and username of the accounts and proceed to check them. The law is not clear on whether they can also check private social media accounts.
Even if posts to your social media accounts are made when you’re off the clock, in some states, the law allows your employers to check your accounts and even ask for credentials to access them.
Fortunately, it’s the public accounts that the law allows employers to check.
So if you love blasting politicians or making inflammatory statements on social media, keep your accounts private. Or better yet, have public accounts that are fairly vanilla and maybe 1 or more private accounts under a nickname where you can get on your soapbox.
Apart from the fact that it’s legal, it makes sense that employers can check your profiles because what employees post can affect the company. It could give the wrong impression about the company and turn off current and potential clients.
It could also help foster a hostile work environment, consequently hurting other employees.
So does a feisty social media profile mean you have a bad attitude? And is that what you would be fired for? In a recent article of mine, I took an in-depth look at how companies deal with a so-called bad attitude and the 1 thing that will always get you fired.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
In the article, we looked at issues around social media being grounds for getting fired.
We checked out whether social media should affect hiring and firing, an employee’s legal rights concerning social media use in the workplace, and whether social media policies are legal.
We also checked out whether employees can use social media to make negative comments about employers. And, we wrapped things up by looking at whether employers can look at employee’s social media accounts.