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Fired over FaceBook Posting? It Can Happen to You

Originally posted: March 27, 2013 on TrishMcFarlane.com

The New York Times ran an interesting article this week about an employee who was fired because of something she posted on her FaceBook page.  An emergency medical technician at American Medical Response of Connecticut was told she had violated the company policy that prevents employees from depicting the company on social media sites.  Additionally, it is thrown in that this was one reason for her termination and alluded that there were other reasons as well.  According to the post, this is “the first case in which the labor board has stepped in to argue that workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.”

Without knowledge of what the other reasons for the termination were, and if we had a case where the disparaging remarks were the only issue, should this company have fired the employee?  Let’s assume that the company did a few steps before terminating.  Here are a few questions I’d like answered:

  • Did they use progressive discipline with the employee?
  • Was this the first time the employee violated a policy?
  • Is this policy violation serious enough to have termination as a consequence?

I think the bigger question for us and our organizations is, are we doing all we can to educate employees about using social media in a way that promotes professionalism? We’re not there yet.  Many instances like this can be avoided first and foremost if the supervisor is open to feedback on a daily basis.  Additionally, if the organization gives employees an outlet to let leadership know if there are issues brewing.  And, while a majority of employees do not use social media as a platform to bash colleagues, I would recommend that for those few who do, education and discussion should be a major component of dealing with the issue before termination is used.  After all, the whole point of social media is being able to communicate and network and by terminating employees on the spot, we’re flying in the face of the purpose.

What do you think?  Do you support terminating employees who vent about colleagues on social sites?  Or, do you agree with the National Labor Relations Board that employees in cases like this are being treated too harshly?  I’m anxious to hear your thoughts…..weigh in in the comment section….

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