It is not difficult to find stories of people being fired for social media posts employers may find offensive or disagreeable. In other cases, employees make the mistake of adding their bosses to Facebook and accidentally sharing photos of keg stands or other unprofessional activities. Whatever the case may be, there is still much confusion as to whether social media posts can legally cost workers their jobs.
To give more insight into what types of posts can get employees fired, let’s use a famous and recent example. In late 2013, a public relations executive at IAC, a major tech company, made a terribly offensive Twitter comment that blew up on social media. The comment was “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding! I’m white!”. Within hours the comment went viral, and by the time the young executive landed in South Africa, she was notified her position at IAC was terminated.
Did IAC have the right to fire this employee for her obviously offensive comment? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has recently discussed cases of social media posts and job termination. State laws have also afforded employees protections while posting on the internet, depending on the nature of social media posts.
What Types of Social Media Posts Are Protected?
- California law prohibits employers from firing workers over political beliefs. However, just be sure not to discuss politics online while on the clock. We recently covered this topic in a blog post.
- The NLRB protects employees who are discussing “concerted activities”, meaning activities that relate to the workplace. For example, workers may discuss new office policies or working conditions. However, derogatory comments may not be protected and could be considered harassment. It is best to avoid comparing your boss to Satan or something else that personifies evil.
Obviously, the IAC executive’s comment did not fall under these protections. The example we used to discuss social media blunders is an extreme case, but some employers may consider even slightly unprofessional comments to be grounds for dismissal. In some cases, it is best to contact an employment law attorney to discuss options for protecting your career.