Q: Dear Workplace Wonda, can an employee get disciplined for posting something on their personal social media sites that might be deemed inappropriate by their employer?
A: Dear Social Voyeur,
My answer to your question is it depends.
Wow, that is exactly how a lawyer would answer this question. Could Workplace Wonda be the Elle Woods of Human Resources? I do enjoy small dogs, fashion, and can do a mean “bend and snap.” In that case, let me continue with my argument that it depends.
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, LinkedIn and many more social media platforms have grown out of the need to connect, both personally and professionally. My first “social” experience was with Facebook. I joined to “spy,” I mean, to “follow” my teen daughter after I found out she created a “profile” online. Strangely, as soon as I got on, she got off. Apparently, nothing makes something suddenly uncool quicker than a parent sending a “friend” request to their teen on Facebook!
There is something about social media that makes people think it is their own free space to say and do whatever they want without judgement, backlash, or consequences. When I first got onto Facebook, I thought it would be funny to post photos of Mr. Workplace Wonda sleeping. It sounds boring, but this man falls asleep in the middle of an argument so I got some amazing shots of him- sleeping on the couch with his mouth open, sleeping on the beach with his mouth open, sleeping with our dogs with his mouth open, sleeping sitting up with his mouth open, and much more. All was going well, at his expense, without his knowledge (he doesn’t do Facebook) until family and friends started teasing him about the latest sleeping photo.
Thankfully, Mr. Workplace Wonda has a good sense of humor and posting his photo without consent didn’t have any long-term consequences. Remember, he falls asleep in the middle of an argument so I knew any yelling would be short-lived! This isn’t always the case. Last year, a model thought it would be funny to post a naked photo of a 70-year-old woman in the gym lockers room and post it to her Snap Chat account with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.” The immediate backlash of her body shaming resulted in invasion of privacy charges and loss of a radio gig and I’m sure many other future opportunities.
With 3.5 billion social media users world-wide, there is little doubt that what you post on social media could get back to your employer. Never before have employers been privy to employee’s personal views, affiliations, and activities outside of the workplace. Just ask Rosanne Barr. When she tweeted a racist remark about Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama, she was fired and then killed off her own show! So, unless you are the leader of the free world, your tweets or other social media posts can be used against you, particularly; if they expose confidential trade secrets, discriminate, harass, or tarnish a companies’ reputation.
What is protected? According to the National Labor Relations Board, employees have the right to engage in “concerted activities.” That’s where the depends comes into play. Employees do have the right to talk about their jobs, even if they are complaining about their pay, supervisor, or working conditions as long as it is defined as “concerted” and not “personal gripes.” For example, employees could be protected even if they are using profanities when discussing working conditions they consider unfair and other employees are commenting in agreement. If an employee states their supervisor is a know-it-all, dumb dumb with a face only a mother could love, now we are getting personal and that could get an employee in deep poo.
California went a step further to protect employee rights and passed a law prohibiting employers from requiring applicants or employees access to their personal social media sites. Do I believe this successfully prevents employers from learning what employees are posting? Nope. That would be like saying gossip doesn’t exist. So, if you don’t want your boss to know you pray to the porcelain gods each weekend and occasionally lose at strip poker, don’t document your partying on social media. Stick to those Throwback Thursday photos from the 1980's or those adorable videos of dogs playing with kittens. Regardless of what you post, keep in mind that whatever you share or post could have long-term effect on your reputation.
|Throwback Thursday ala 1992 Photo-No Workplace Wonda wasn't in a Twisted Sister video and no, that is not the real Dudley Moore.