Firing Employees For Social Media Use

Trash-talking your employer via social media is a bone-headed and unprofessional thing to do. But can you, and should you, fire an employee over it? Employee terminations over social media use have been hot topics in the news for the past few years, and it is important for employers to know when they can oust a problematic employee. However, let’s also talk about a few strategies for preventing a professional conflict over social media in the workplace. Because Facebook should be a distraction from your work day, not a part of it.

The rules for firing an employee based on social media use are largely unclear. However, a few guidelines have begun to emerge. The National Board of Labor Relations has weighed in on a few different wrongful termination lawsuits, with some interesting findings. You can read about a few different scenarios here and here, but the takeaway is that a few different things are gaining traction as protected speech on social media:

  • Complaints related to compensation are protected. Compensation can mean an actual paycheck, but it can also be extended to include customer satisfaction or community respect for a business. So, if a waitress complains about how a misspelling on the restaurant menu is a professional embarrassment, that is feasibly protected.
  • Complaints that have already been raised with the management can be protected, as can “valid” criticism. For instance, an employee who complains about his/her employer’s tax withholding policies can be protected, especially if they’ve already talked to the manager about it.
  • Complaints voiced with other employees—or “concerted activity”—are protected. This is a big one. Although Constitutional free speech doesn’t apply to private employers, the right to “protected concerted activity” does. This right exists regardless of union status, and extends to social media activity.

Confusing, much? We think so, too. This is why it is a good idea for a company to have a company policy on social media. Make no mistake: you can’t circumvent the above rules by making them part of company policy. However, crafting a social media company policy under legal advisement now can save everyone a lot of headaches later.

This social media policy should outline rules for professional use of social media, and should clearly explain the action that the company is allowed to take if these rules are broken. Considering the murkiness of the legalities at this point, it might be a good idea to have legal counsel take a look at the policy.

Incorporate the social media documentation into your other company policy paperwork, and update your company handbook. Advise all employees of the policy, so that everyone understands what should not be discussed on personal social media accounts. This will give employers, and employees, peace of mind.

Does your company policy outline professional use of social media? Tell us about it below, or send me a tweet: @ithinkther4iamb

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by Rosaura Ochoa