When Is Facebook Worth More Than Your Job?


Facebook is great in many ways. You can communicate with friends, share pictures, and vent your feelings. But be careful what you say if your rant is about your employer! As more cases appear where people are fired for complaining about work on social media, there’s more precedent for what is and is not ok!

Forbes has two scenarios, along with explanations of what has and has not been protected in past legal battles.

Scenario one:

Pop quiz, hotshot. You’re a manager at a BMW dealership. One day, someone drives one of your luxury cars into a pond. One of your employees takes a photo of the busted BMW. At a later date, you throw a special event to launch a new model. You decide to celebrate by offering clients free hot dogs and Costco snacks. The same employee is flabbergasted that you would expect potential buyers of high-end vehicles to scarf down a weiner and coke instead of caviar and champagne. He and other employees, who are dependent on sales commissions for their livelihood, complain about this among themselves and to you in a staff meeting. During the event, they take photos posing skeptically in front of the hot dog stand. Your employee posts photos of the water-logged BMW and the sucky snacks in a Facebook photo album with appropriate snarky comments. Can you fire that employee?

Scenario two:

 You’ve left BMW for a hot job at Wal-mart. After you’re hired, one of your employees posts to Facebook about the new “tyranny” at the store, suggesting that the Wal-Mart is about to “get a wake up call because lots of employees are about to quit.” Some co-workers express sympathy and ask what’s wrong. The employee helpfully explains that you are a “super mega puta.” Someone prints these comments up and delivers them to you. Can you fire that employee?

First, kudos to Forbes for the “Speed” reference! Second, according to the article, the first scenario is protected while the second is not, and the difference is whether your coworkers agree/commiserate with you. The gist of it is that gathering and complaining among your coworkers is protected, but venting on your own is not. The yardstick here is that if you were out in a bar with friends, talking about your boss, that would be free speech. Just talking crap about your boss is, well, you just talking crap.

So how do you handle this? Honestly, keep any work-rants off Facebook, or at least off your wall and open areas. Group message your coworkers if you need to vent, but putting it in a public spot leaves you vulnerable to issues down the road. Or simply don’t post about your job on Facebook at all! You can’t be terminated for private conversation, so keep it private. Problem solved.

Or, if you simply must share with the world your displeasure with your employers, do it as a group. Borders employees maintained a Livejournal for years, and while many were threatened about posting there, my understanding is that it falls under the “protected speech” concept, since it is clearly a gathering of people from one company.

I don’t like Facebook, and this is just another reason. While I have conflicted feelings about employers firing you based on Facebook, the fact is that the internet is not your personal playground. What you put on Facebook, or a blog, or twitter, can haunt you down the road. So the lesson here is that we should all follow a few simple rules to remember about “social networking” and hopefully no one gets fired (disclaimer: I am not an attorney, but I have been in management, and these suggestions are just common sense):

1) Don’t put anything on Facebook you wouldn’t want your boss to see. Just like you wouldn’t sit in the breakroom of your job and talk loudly about your boss, don’t do it on Facebook. Even if it is technically legal, it is a bad idea to let something that negative about your job sit on a public site.

2) If you absolutely must post your rant on Facebook, don’t identify your company. In fact, unless your company is über-liberal with social media, don’t list your employer on Facebook at all. My firm actually strongly requested we not list them on Facebook. If your employer is very big on maintaining a strong wall between personal and professional lives, respect it. Doesn’t matter if you think they’re being old-fashioned, since they hold the key to your continued employment!

3) Embrace privacy settings. A lot. You don’t want to end up losing dream job because someone saw that you ragged on your current boss. Remember, the National Labor Relations Board is stepping in for possibly illegal firing. Someone can opt not to hire you for any number of intangible reasons, but you don’t want one of them to be Facebook.

I don’t mean to slam Facebook/social networks, but I do think many people (unfortunately) don’t use common sense, or err on the side of assuming they are in the right. You cannot assume anything posted on the internet is “protected speech”, and it is very important for everyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, etc to be aware of what is protected and what is not. The NLRB exists to protect employee rights, and if even they say some things posted to Facebook aren’t protected, that’s a red flag to get educated and use some common sense!

Have you ever had an employer ban Facebook, or request you avoid mentioning them? Has anyone you know been fired for comments made online? And will you be/are you talking to your kids about social networking and the vague “privacy” around it? Share your thoughts and experiences below!


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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?

1 Comment on "When Is Facebook Worth More Than Your Job?"

  1. I don’t really see how “Protected Speech” applies at all in these cases. Our Constitution in the US guarantees free speech as far as the government is concerned, but that same free speech doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have other consequences. You can call a leading member of Congress all sorts of names and speak out against him/her and not be put in jail (barring real or implied threats) because that person is a Congressperson and you are not. However, speaking out against your company does not have those same protections. If your manager reads something like that, they can fire you, especially if they’re not a government company.

    Your best advice here is telling people to keep it off the Internet. Do that and you’re likely safe. Once it’s out there, it’s out there, “fatty paycheck” or not. 🙂

    I’d even argue against #2. If you absolutely must post something on Facebook, write it elsewhere, go away for a day, then decide if it still warrants posting on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. Most times it’s likely you’ll just want to delete what you’d typed up and go no further.

    Thanks for the reminder about what we share and when/where we share it.

Comments are closed.