Social media is an every day part of life now. Some people put all of their thoughts online, for better or worse. And if you own a business, some of your employees may vent about your business on their personal Facebook page or Twitter feed.
As their boss, can you do anything about? That depends on what the employee says. Some comments are fire-able offenses, but many things an employee writes online may say fall under “protected speech,” even if it may lead to an awkward and unpleasant work environment:
‘Bosses can get mad when staffers vent on social media about their jobs, but they may not be able to get even. When one of Bert Martinez’ employees posted gripes about her job and the boss on Facebook last year, the publicist consulted his lawyer, who said the staffer couldn’t be fired. “The first lesson I learned is, employees are allowed to vent,” says Martinez, owner of Bert Martinez Communications in Phoenix. “If they’re saying, hey, it’s hard working here and I find this environment unpleasant, you can’t fire them for that.” The employee quit a week after Martinez learned about the post.’
Employees are allowed to complain about work conditions. Any talk about an issue with paychecks, insurance, or the sick day policy is protected. If you fire someone for this, you could be in big trouble:
‘The government protects workers’ rights to say what they want about where they work, even if it’s in a vitriolic and insulting tweet or post. It’s illegal for an employee to be fired for a post about working conditions, whether it’s pay, hours, assignments, difficult supervisors, dress code, or any other issue. So employers shouldn’t try to restrict workers’ freedom of speech or retaliate if there’s a post they don’t like.’
But employees don’t have carte blanche to say anything. They can’t disparage the company, it’s products and services, or it’s customers. They can’t give away any trade secrets, and they can’t give out any financial information. Employees also can’t encourage insubordination from other employees. And finally, they can be fired for saying anything racist, sexist, or homophobic that may reflect negatively on the company.
So what’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself? Have a social media policy in place and go over it with your employees. Sometimes simply saying it aloud to everyone is enough to stop your employees from saying something they’ll regret. Remind them that it’s public and that anyone, up to and including the CEO, can see it.
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