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Can My Employer Discipline Me Because of My Social Media Use?

Social media continues to increase in popularity, and it seems every day there is a new platform that allow users to interact with one another in various ways. The use of social media is so prevalent that even those who don’t consider themselves tech-savvy or on top of the latest internet trends are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other options to stay in touch with friends around the world.

So what does this mean for the workplace and how employees are treated based on social media use?

First and foremost, employees should realize what they are permitted to do on social media varies from company to company. To learn the specific details of your employer’s social media policy, consult your employee handbook or review your employment contract, if you have one.

The Basics of Social Media and the Workplace

You have the freedom to discuss and criticize your employer over a variety of issues, including company policies and working conditions. These types of discussions are permitted between employees within a company and are protected by law because employees are legally permitted to band together to improve their working conditions – something that requires discussion.

However, if you are just venting and not attempting to discuss or improve issues, as is often the case on social media, your behavior is not necessarily protected. If you are badmouthing your employer on social media, your employer could have the right to discipline you.

One exception to this is complaints related to your status under a protected class, such as race, religion, sex, etc. If you complain on social media that you are dealing with discrimination based on your religion or race or sexual orientation, and then fired because of your post, your employer could face legal consequences for terminating you. The same is true if you use social media for whistleblowing – such as announcing your employer is engaged in illegal activity.

Keep in mind there are usually more constructive ways to deal with these issues than through social media, but there are also times when sharing information about a company’s discriminatory behavior on social media is appropriate.

What Kind of Posts Can Get You Legally Fired?

Despite protection against discipline for social media activity, there are still several reasons an employer can take action for an employee’s online behavior. For instance, if you post trade secrets in violation of a confidentiality agreement or share photos that reflect poorly on the company, an employer can take action. Though some states have enacted protection against termination for off-hours behavior considered inappropriate by an employer, if that employer can prove it damages the company’s reputation, there might be grounds to take action.

It should also be noted that if your employer has a policy that disallows the use of social media or access to social media during work hours, you can be disciplined for breaking the policy. Employer still maintain a great deal of control over what employees can and cannot do while on the clock.

For more information about federal laws and social media in the workplace, visit the US Equal Employment Opportunities page devoted to social media use

If your employer has threatened discipline or terminate you because of your social media posts, you might have a right to take action. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss the details of your situation.

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