Amy McClenathan was having a bad day as the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death approached.
She was not in the mood to be at work so she posted, “I wish I could get fired some days, it would be easier to be at home than to have to go through this."
The next day her employer granted her wish: she was fired from her job at a title company.
A woman named “Wynetta” worked as a basketball coach at her alma mater, something she considered her “dream job”. After one particularly long day at work, Wynetta attended a relative’s party where her daughter took a picture of her drinking from a penis-shaped straw. The daughter then posted the picture on Facebook. When her employer saw the picture, Wynetta was asked to resign.
In 2010, after working at the Arizona Daily Star for over 10 years, reporter Brian Pedersen lost his job with the newspaper because he posted sarcastic Tweets about a Tucson homicide wave on Twitter.
McClenathan, Pedersen and Wynetta are not alone and this issue is being addressed in administrative hearings and in courts.
Mr. Pedersen took his case to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB ruled that the newspaper was within its rights to fire him. However, the NLRB often takes the position that critical postings are equivalent to workers venting around the water cooler.
Despite accounts such as those about McClenathan, Wynetta and Pedersen, reports by the NLRB make it clear that employees do have the right to complain on social media about working conditions.
The difference between what is protected social media speech about the workplace and what isn’t is determined by “concerted activity”. Concerted activity is a term used to define the activities workers may partake in without fear of employer retaliation.
Employees have the right to discuss working conditions and state their opinions. However, they can’t engage in postings on social media sites that would be considered libel or slander, nor can the post confidential company information.
Employees should be very careful about what they post. As demonstrated in the foregoing examples, you can be terminated if you violate lawful company policy or if your post isn’t protected activity.
The bottom line? Social media presents much to worry about. Postings on social media sites can kill a job and a career.
- If you feel the need to vent, don’t!
- If you want to let the world know you don’t like your job, don’t!
- If you want to post a great/funny picture from an event where you’re dancing ontable, don’t!
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Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. Vicki publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.
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