Sometimes, we like to think that freedom of speech gives us the right to say what we want to our friends without having to face any consequences. Unfortunately, the law does not see things that way. Our freedom of speech, provided by the First Amendment, only protects us from the government preventing us from speaking our minds. So while you can’t go to jail for saying your boss is a pain in the neck, you can certainly get fired for it.
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The Times, They Are a-Changin’
For generations, we have been able to go home after a long day at work and let off some steam to our closest friends or family members, being confident that our spouse or best friend is not about to call up our boss and play tattletale. But the world is changing. More and more of our conversations (and rantings) are not in the privacy of our own living room or on the telephone, but instead are on social media; and that is where the problem arises. And the issue isn’t only with posts about work — just like potential employers may not hire you if you have a social media profile depicting questionable behavior, your current employer may also discipline you for any actions that you have taken that are against policies of your company.
Multiple news agencies have reported on horror stories of people who have suffered the consequences of talking about work on Facebook. Yahoo Tech News reported on a Georgia teacher who was forced to choose between suspension and resignation in 2009, because of her Facebook page. A student told the school there were pictures on the page of the teacher drinking beer and wine, and the school administration decided that the photos “promoted alcohol use.” The teacher opted to resign. The same report included the story of another woman who worked for a power company until she ranted about her customers on Facebook and found herself fired. Then, of course, there is the young man who posted a picture of himself using drugs on Facebook. His employer commented on the photo, saying, “Give me a good reason not to fire you first thing Monday morning.”
CNN has also reported on this phenomenon. Their report includes a long list of cases, including the following:
- One Taco Bell employee shared a photo of himself licking a stack of taco shells on a social media site.
- A barista wrote a blog about the annoying facets of the job, and wound up fired for blogging about the company on company time.
- A former California Pizza Kitchen employee claims to have been fired because he tweeted about how he did not like the company’s new uniforms.
- Gilbert Gottfried lost his long-time position as the voice of the Aflac duck because he tweeted a joke deemed offensive to victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
Although it is possible that your online statements could be considered concerted activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act, this is a high and, often, difficult standard to meet. To the contrary, the moral of these stories is clear: we constantly tell our teenagers and children not to post personal or embarrassing things to the internet, and we need to heed our own advice. Do not post anything online that you would not be comfortable walking into your boss’s office and telling (or showing) him or her face-to-face.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you know someone who has been fired for posting something online? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.