By Sandra Canosa
Can an employee be fired for something they posted or shared on social media? Yes.
Even under the First Amendment protection for freedom of speech? Yes.
This might not be groundbreaking news for people in the HR world, but it apparently is for ordinary workers. When asked in a survey: “Do you believe that getting fired because of a social media post is an infringement of First Amendment rights?” some 41.2% of respondents said “Yes.” Another 30.4% said “Not Sure.”
In other words, more than seven in 10 Americans are clueless about how their online activity can affect their IRL jobs.
The many high-profile stories about workers who have been fired because of insensitive Tweets, ranting Facebook posts, or incriminating Instagram photos seem to provide little deterrence for people who believe that they can continue to share anything they want through social media — no matter how offensive or unethical — without fear of repercussions from their employers.
As the line between our working and private lives becomes increasingly blurred thanks to the constant connectivity of the Internet — and social media — it may be high time for a refresher lesson on what “freedom of speech” is really all about.
The First Amendment mandates that the government can’t interfere with an individual person’s freedom of speech. It says nothing about disciplinary action from employers in the private sector.
Regardless of privacy settings, most social media sites are public spaces — and complaining about your boss, coworkers, or clients in a public space can be legitimate grounds for dismissal. So can actions conveyed online that go against company policy or ethical standards.
Yet, it seems that many employees are still unaware of how their selfies or posts can influence their working lives. The best way to tackle this issue is to provide a company social media policy up front that informs both parties about their rights and protections when it comes to online sharing and activity.
All companies should have a social media policy in place, but even without one, any “freedom of speech” defense in a wrongful termination case is unlikely to hold any water. A clear policy, though, might just prevent an unfortunate or ill-advised post from going public before it’s too late.
Sandra Canosa is a premium writer for white label SEO reseller HubShout.