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How eager are companies to fire employees for things that they say on social media?

Carol Johnson's Profile

It seems to be more and more common to hear about employees losing their job for flippant comments, so what has your experience been?

Answers

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Consulting CFO and Business Operations A..
Company: Growth Accelerator
(Consulting CFO and Business Operations Advisor, Growth Accelerator) |

I've experienced this, but it still seems very, very rare:
-Companies don't want to blend personal and professional any more than they need to.
-Companies don't want to be seen as violating individual speech rights.
-Companies do want connected employees; sometimes people say unfortunate things, and that is a cost of the "AlwaysOn" lifestyle.

However, where I've seen it:
-What they say is illegal (or close enough). Hate speech is a good example. "Download X for free here" is another.
-What they say endangers the company. Publishing on FB "we're moving product like crazy" a week before an earnings release is a bad idea.
-What is done or said online puts the company in a position of having foreknowledge that the individual is in some way unbalanced. An alcoholic video rant should lead to some sort of intervention, for example.

There are outliers....but they seem to be just that.

Topic Expert
Henry Schumann
Title: Manager FP&A
Company: Allscripts
(Manager FP&A, Allscripts) |

Having a clearly defined social media policy as part of the employee handbook is good practice. If this would be a new addition to the handbook, then all current employees should be notified once the policy is adopted. If this policy currently exists in the handbook, then highlighting that section as part of new employee orientation is another good practice.

Topic Expert
Mike Caruana
Title: Director of Financial Services
Company: Diamond Resorts International
(Director of Financial Services, Diamond Resorts International) |

I'm not aware of anyone eager to fire team members so I'd change the question slightly. What I'm eager to do is reinforce oustanding team member behavior, so we're very clear in our Team Member Handbook that any violation of our code of conduct is egregious (and we include a couple dozen examples). I agree with Henry that a clearly defined social media policy is essential to enforcing any 'violation'. Assuming that's in place and there is a clear violation, I would follow a progressive disciplinary action model rather than just moving to fire them. Obviously, serious violations of documented policies should be met with immediate termination.

Jean Campbell
Title: Education Management Professional
Company: Campbell, Bird Consulting
LinkedIn Profile
(Education Management Professional, Campbell, Bird Consulting) |

Here is a link to an interesting article on this subject. First amendment rights appear to be pretty limited, especially for "at will" employees.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nea.org%2Fhome%2F38324.htm&ei=is05UvO1FtLSqAGGxYHYBg&usg=AFQjCNEgm2dUGkSawvgRotTqTV5McvSlHQ&sig2=kwQ-sswvFWj4din_zAwd1A

Kelvin Smith
Title: Vice President
Company: Financial Computer Systems Inc.
(Vice President, Financial Computer Systems Inc.) |

I know someone very well to whom this happened. The comment online was officially seen as disrespectful to supporters of the nonprofit organization, but that was a bit of a stretch (and it was a Facebook posting to "friends," not an open blog entry). Behind the scenes the issue seems really to have been that some people were looking for an excuse to get rid of the offender, and this was a convenient opportunity.

Keith Johnson
Title: Principal
Company: Keith E. Johnson CPA PA
(Principal, Keith E. Johnson CPA PA) |

As long as its the truth, on the employee's own time and on the employee's own equipment, there's really not a lot anyone can do without risking a hefty lawsuit. Its not a good idea, obviously, but I strongly believe that what the employee does on their own time and resources is their business, not mine. I have to make my business so that my employees would be happy to brag about where they work on FB etc.. And I do have employees

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I have seen where malicious lies posted on-line (and can be clearly proven) have been grounds for immediate dismissal.

More common has been the off colour comment that slips out when someone is in the middle of a stressful time at work. My experience has been that speaking with that person about the posted comment and asking what can be done to rectify the situation where they felt they needed to express themselves in that way almost always stops the issue in its tracks.

Most often it has been a younger staff member who quickly realizes the ramifications of an on-line rant and thinks before hitting send/share/post in the future. There has never been a threat to fire someone, but everyone clearly understands that sharing in this way is not a recommended repeat action.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

The First Amendment limits control of speech by the government. Not by others.

You can bad mouth your meal ticket all you want. But, don't be surprised if they cut off your meals. ;-)

I do like Keith's answer best though. Having been on both sides of a few employer/employee adversarial situations, I've never understood why employers always seem to think they are right and it is employees that are wrong? I see a fair amount of that kind of hubris in the advice frequently provided here.

If an employee is venting about something at work, my first reaction after the shock and maybe even anger, is to think about why this is happening? Am I sure it is them and not us? Are we being completely fair and candid in our dealings? Are they just being human?

If it is a truly problematic employee, than this is a chance to terminate an unfruitful relationship.

If their point is valid or the result of a lack of communication, maybe it's time to make organizational changes.

If they are just venting, then maybe we should just talk it out and provide them with the assurance that they are not taken for granted and their concerns are being acknowledged.

An old friend of mine had to travel a lot between SF and LA post Loma Prieta for his fortune 100 employer. He was out of his SF office several days a week and his staff was left on their own for grueling and demanding days.

One day, while walking unnoticed behind two of his staffers in the hallway of the SF office, he overheard one refer to him in frustration as an "a**hole" and complain that he was never available to help them with problems.

Rather than taking offensive and responding from an authoritative position as so often happens, he took it as construction criticism and normal, human venting. He sped up his pace, put himself between his two staff people with his arms on both of their shoulders, smiled and said, "How can this a**hole be of help to you guys?".

That is true management!

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