Social media can seem like a casual, semiprivate space: it's where you post photos of your adventures, share opinions and links to interesting articles, and keep your friends and family up to date on what's happening in your life.
But while posting on social media may feel far removed from the workplace, in some cases, what you share on Facebook could lead to reprimands by your employer—or even having your position terminated.
It's a tangled, complex situation. As an employee, here's what you need to know about posting on Facebook and other social media platforms.
People Have Been Fired for Social Media Posts
If you are employed at will, then there are some cases where your employer can fire you because of your social media posts. In May 2021, for example, The Associated Press fired a reporter for her posts on Twitter.
Even expressing personal opinions about the state of the world or your feelings about others on social media could potentially prompt employers to fire someone.
You may be wondering: What about my first amendment right to free speech? While this amendment protects the government from restricting your speech, it does not mean that a private company can't set out rules about what can and can't be said.
Being fired for social media posts may at first seem unfair, particularly if the posts were not related to your workplace. But if you post something offensive or inflammatory online and it becomes a news story, the end result for your employer could be bad PR.
In some cases, your employer may have a policy about what can—and cannot—be posted on social media. For instance, your employer may prohibit posts that are racist or sexist, or ones that reveal company secrets. You could be fired for what you post if your post goes against policy. Even without a policy, at-will employees can be fired for Facebook posts.
Some Facebook Posts Are Protected
But some speech on Facebook—and other social media sites—is considered protected.
In groundbreaking legal action regarding employees' online postings, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that investigates unfair labor practice allegations, filed a complaint against a company that fired a worker because of what she posted on Facebook.
Posting company information or negative comments about a company have been grounds for firing in the past, with companies construing the posts as violations of company social media policy.
The employee, who had posted a negative comment about her boss on her Facebook page from her personal computer on personal time, was reportedly suspended and then fired for her Facebook postings because the posting violated the company's internet policies.
According to the NLRB, "An NLRB investigation found that the employee's Facebook postings constituted protected concerted activity, and that the company's blogging and internet posting policy contained unlawful provisions, including one that prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or supervisors and another that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the internet without company permission."
Bottom line: Some speech is protected, and employers should be careful their social media policies do not go against labor law. But not all speech is legally protected. Per the NLRB, "An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees."
That is, complaining on Facebook that your boss is a jerk does not fall under the category of protected speech.
Social Media and Employee Rights
Employees, regardless of whether they are talking around a water cooler in an office or on Facebook, have the right to discuss working conditions. Stating your opinion on working conditions is a protected activity. But beyond that, here's what you should keep in mind before posting on social media:
- Some speech is very clearly off-limits. Employees can't just post anything they want on Facebook or anywhere else. Libel or slander or posting comments about individuals that are not related to your work environment are not protected. Posting confidential company information, good or bad, is not protected.
- Be careful. Your contract can still be terminated if you violate a lawful company policy or the law itself, or if your speech isn't otherwise protected activity. That is a lot to have to worry about, so if your goal is to fix a problem at work, what often is the most effective is to follow the company policy for reporting workplace issues.
- Know the company's social media policy. If your company has a social media policy, read through it carefully. When in doubt, wait a day before posting.
The Bottom Line
- You could be fired for social media posts. Think twice before you post.
- Some speech is protected. Your employer does have some limitations when it comes to the company's social media policy.