The overwhelming popularity of social media has changed our lives and reshaped the way we communicate, but at times, it causes friction in the workplace. This is especially true when posts to social media sites result in termination or adverse employment decisions.

While many employees view social media as a sacred protected place private only to themselves and friends, the reality is that what’s said over the cyber airwaves can be dangerous to careers. At the same time, employers social media policies can sometimes overstep the boundaries of law and encroach on employees’ rights.

Yes.You CAN be fired for something you say or do on social media.

Offensive remarks criticizing your employer or supervisor on social media can absolutely get you fired whether the remarks are posted only among friends or worldwide. Many employers now have a social media policy firmly in place at the time of hiring. When crafted correctly, these policies are legally binding and outline social media behavior and conduct that could violate a company’s terms.

When an employee’s posts violate a company’s social media policy, termination is not only likely, in many cases it’s inevitable.

An employer’s main concern here is protecting brand quality and company reputation. These intangible ideas easily translate into tangible profits, and companies are willing to take necessary action to protect them. When an employee posts offensive remarks, it can be a poor reflection on company integrity, especially if the employee happens to be a spokesperson or well-known associate of the business or organization.

Tips for Avoiding Social Media Terminations

Today, 29% of employees age 18 to 34 fear social media will get them fired. That’s 1 in 4 employees cognizant enough of disastrous social media scenarios that they’re afraid of consequences in the workplace. However, employees need not be afraid when they follow these simple tips:

1.  Assume anything you post is permanent, searchable and sharable with the world.

Yes, there are certain inviolable parameters within social media, but not many. Consider that users are only able to freely benefit from social media because use easily translates into advertising dollars. Social media is a lucrative publishing and marketing tool with almost unlimited possibility. This means that anything you post is capturable information that can easily wind up in the hands of a supervisor, manager or co-worker.

2.  Giving out personal-identifying info could increase risks.

Safety precautions for the Internet are almost as old as the Internet itself, and one of the first rules of thumb is to protect one’s identity as much as possible. Common sense tells us that anonymity affords loads of protection from strangers on the Internet, but even a curtailed used of one’s identity, stopping just short of anonymity, can decrease the risk of repercussions at work.

3.  Privacy settings are key mitigators.

Many sites have certain privacy settings in place. Opting out of information sharing for marketing purposes or being selective about who is allowed to see your posts and comments could mean the difference between keeping a good job or having to pound the pavement for a new one.

4. Do become familiar with your company’s social media policy.

A company’s social media policy should contain everything you need to know about it’s stance on social media and the way it handles violations. Discuss this with your employer at the outset of the employment process to ensure clarity on all details. Getting a good understanding right form the start can go a long way.

5. Don’t treat social media lightly.

As more and more stories of terminations as a result of social media activity surface, the message is clear: social media is not to be taken lightly. Consider that inconsiderate, sharable content will always be a potential threat to your position or to your chances of acquiring a new one.

Grounds for Wrongful Termination?

It’s also a good idea be aware of the law protecting employees from overly broad social media policies. In at-will employment situations, employers can fire someone for almost any reason, but when an employer’s policies violate federal or state law, there may be grounds for wrongful termination.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, a social media policy may constitute unfair labor practices if it chills an employee’s right to discuss conditions of employment with other workers. According to Section 7 of the Act, social media policies cannot be so broad that they limit “concerted” activity among employees necessary for collective bargaining. This includes discussions about pay, benefits and the conditions of work.

The National Labor Relations Board

In 2010, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that enforces the National Labor Relations Act, set guidelines and practices to help employers approach the law developing around social media posts. The agency has released three reports, two dealing with Facebook posts and one highlighting a variety of cases covering the topic of social media policies.

The NLRB suggests “just individually griping” about your job with repulsive language or derogatory terms could forfeit protection under the law. Whereas comments that “have some relation to group action or seek to initiate, induce or prepare for group action or bring group complaints to the attention of management” may be grounds for violation of the Act.

Going Further

Seek guidance from employee support agencies for clarity on just how far an employee can go with comments on social media and how far an employer can go with termination based on social media policies. Even though you can be fired for what you say on social media, you also have rights that could protect you from termination. If you think your rights have been violated, contact Shegerian & Associates today for help.