Fired Over Social Media: Will HR Do It? Can They?


Badmouthing your company on social media is both unethical and not a particularly smart thing to do.

Should human resources fire an employee over it? Can they fire them?

Social Media
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Terminations because of social media use have been one of the hot topics for human resources in the past few years. It is imperative that employers know when they are able to fire a problematic employee. There are a few strategies for human resources to prevent an ethical controversy over social media use in the workplace.

Twitter and Facebook should be seen as distractions from work, not part of it.

Human Resources: Free live ovation demoThere are few set rules for human resources to fire employees based on social media use. Recently, though, a few guidelines are starting to grow. The National Board of Labor Relations has made some judgments about a few wrongful termination lawsuits; the results are fascinating.

Learn about the different cases here and here and see the trends gaining momentum about the types protected speech on social media:

  • Compensation-related complaints are protected. It can refer to actual pay, as well as customer satisfaction or respect for a business in the community. So, if a server complains about a misspelling on the restaurant menu that they see as a professional embarrassment, it could be protected.
  • Prior complaints raised to employers or human resources could be protected; so is “valid” criticism. Also protected are employees who complain about an employer’s tax withholding policies, especially if the employee already voiced a complaint to management.
  • Complaints voiced between employees— “concerted activity”—is  protected. This is huge. Constitutional free speech doesn’t apply to private employers, but the right to “protected concerted activity” does. Regardless of union status, this right exists, and it extends to social media activities.

Yes, it sounds complicated! That makes it a good idea for human resources to build a company policy on social media. Be extremely clear about it—making them part of company policy does not circumvent the rules! On the other hand, creating a social media company policy now (with legal advisement) can save everyone headaches later.

A social media strategy must define guidelines for ethical use of social media, clearly explaining what steps the company can take if the rules are broken. Considering the uncertain area of legality at this time, have legal counsel look at any proposed policy.

Include documentation of social media rule violations into your company policy paperwork, and improve the company manual to accommodate the new rules. Instruct all employees about the policy, so everyone understands what to avoid in personal social media accounts. This will allow protection to both employers and employees.

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