Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

Summary: Facebook is increasingly being used to discipline employees -- even fire them in some cases. Managers may find themselves on shaky legal ground.

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Facebook is increasingly being used to discipline and fire employees for indiscretions at work, to the point where the federal agency overlooking labour law is finding itself in "new territory".

There are cases reported where employees have been given the can because of their actions on Facebook. This over the course of time seems to be relatively common: be prepared to toe the corporate line.

Many would even be willing to undergo a level of social 'vetting' to ensure that their private lives would not compromise their work lives.

"It's new territory", said a spokesperson for the National Labor Relations Board, which still deals with dozens of cases a month of Facebook-fired employees.

(Image via Flickr)

The trouble falls down to many not differentiating between 'work Facebook' and 'personal Facebook', and being unsure of the best method of communication to get a point across.

A settlement earlier this year, however, determined that employees could not be disciplined by their boss as a result of the content they post on the world's largest social network.

However, this leads to the 'Facebook generation' and the complexity of Facebook as a communications platform.

For small to medium sized businesses that are still finding their footing in the world, Facebook is a vital communications platform. From private groups to even an email platform, it can be used as a free, easy to use -- at least for younger people -- and social platform for younger entrepreneurs to work from.

One thing is clear, is that for younger people -- they have a lot to learn about what they can and cannot say whilst in employment with a particular person or body. Employers, on the other hand, need to carefully dissect the difference between what is work and what is not -- and ensure policies are in place to deal with disciplinary hearings correctly.

Besides anything else, it's just unprofessional behaviour to use Facebook in such a way.

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Topic: Social Enterprise

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84 comments
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  • I know for a fact that honesty is so NOT

    the best policy. In fact it can be said and day to day is often practiced that lying is the BEST policy. However even with this knowledge I'm basically an honest person I tell it like I see it. So one day when my employer gave me one of these lame "self-review" forms that they had came to adopt I took a look at the first few questions and knew they did not want to hear what I had to say but rather they wanted me to lie. So I said to my manager "You don't want me to answer this do you?" He assured me that he did and the company wanted me to be honest.... heh heh heh. So I was. Later I heard through the grape vine and my manager that if I ever turned in such a piece of work again like that I would be looking for a new job:P Still I did enjoy being honest once more:) My point being I suppose when employed and at work one has to or is expected to shovel it like everyone else but if I'm on facebook and the only people who read what I write are my friends then what interest should it be of my employer? Do they care what I say verbally to my friends cause frankly it will be the same thing either written down on facebook or verbally when I see them no difference. Actually with me I'll even tell them to their faces and or on some lame self review form as it turns out...ha!

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

      @James Quinn I would be hunting a job right after I wrapped that form around a nice size stick and beat the jerk with it that fired me until he lost a few IQ points. >:) That's the way it works in the REAL world. If a person doesn't want honesty, then don't ask for it.

      In truth any employer poking around on facebook firing people needs to be sued. That's my personal business no matter what they think.
      blueskip
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip

        Even if you're posting company information?
        aep528
      • Message has been deleted.

        striker67
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip

        Even if you are using facebook to harass co-workers or customers?
        toe cutter
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip & James Quinn
        There is such a thing as tact, even when being honest. I certainly can't comment on what you said exactly, only you can reflect on that. When an employer is asking for your honesty in answering a questionaire they want more than just bitching and complaints, they want YOUR ideas for solution.
        chrischeek@...
    • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

      @James Quinn
      People who expect others to evaluate theirself are incapable of managing others and are looking for ways to appear like they do.

      I never lie, EXCEPT, when someone expects me to evaluate myself. Then I make the evaluation form look as good as possible for myself as it is obvious they want you to lie.

      As for Facebook and other public documents. Your employer is entitled to use all public information to evaluate a person's suitability for employment and promotion. Including any memberships you have in organizations.

      Anyone who doesn't realize that is a fool and deserves everything that happens to them.
      shanedr
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @shanedr I completely disagree about self-evaluations. They are extremely important for both you and your boss. If you can't honestly evaluate your performance, how can you expect it from anyone else? Certainly you should paint yourself in the best light.
        chrischeek@...
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @shanedr they may be entitled to use public domain information but, is it good HR practice? No absolutely not. There has to be a separation between professional life and personal life. Facebook, by definition, is more or less a digital bar. It's a frivolous place where people get together and socialize. Any information placed on Facebook is likewise going to be frivolous. I know I don't divulge anything of any real import on Facebook. So any prospective employer who is trolling Facebook for info about me is basically looking in the worst place for any substantive information about my job performance, which is all they should be concerned about. Frankly if I smoke crack and drink heavily it shouldn't matter to an employer so long as I show up, perform my duties as expected and don't do it on the clock.
        Str0b0
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @Str0b0
        While I agree to a point, I have found that all too often the "company" will blur that line between work and life and impinge upon the life side as much as possible under the guise that as an employee (especially mangement) you "represent" the public facing side of said "company".

        That is a realistic and very tough place.
        Now stir in Facebook or Google + .....
        :|
        rhonin
  • The short answer: yes.

    And the reason for the answer is that most states do not have any protections for workers being fired "at will". Whether it is Facebook or something overheard in the restroom, an employer can decide that a person is detrimental to the company and fire them, just like that.<br><br>As far as the NLRB is concerned, they pursued the Conn. case under a very narrow interpretation, and the company essentially left itself wide open. But it doesn't leave a precedent that protects general speech or behavior on FB. And considering the new debt bill guts a lot of regulatory funding for agencies like NLRB, there may be nobody left to help in a case.<br><br>Of course, the most important impact social media has is on the hiring process, not the firing process. Generally the employer has no obligation to tell someone why they were not hired, and background checks including FB are becoming very common even in small businesses. Companies sell background checks as packages for less than $50 that include FB and blog searches. It is a small price to pay to find out if your potential employee spends their entire day glued to FB or posts confidential info.
    terry flores
    • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

      @terry flores Unfortunately, the question is not CAN but SHOULD...

      And the logic is flawed, since being fired verbally is unlike being fired on Facebook because the first has proof that you actually know about the fact and posting to Facebook is not guaranteed.

      Also, depending upon how it's done, firing on Facebook is potentially far more damaging than being fired in front of co-workers (and few people are actually fired in front of other employees--it's simply bad practice.

      I agree that the hiring issue is more important--employers can easily learn things on Facebook which they are not permitted under law to ask candidates--everything from political views to sexual orientation.

      The final issue relates to 'young people' learning what to or not post.

      Since there is a never-ending supply of young people, and thus there will always be ignorance, this, and the issue of growing up in general becomes a problem simply because children and teens are SUPPOSED to make mistakes--they cannot help but do so. There is no good reason to penalize the newly graduated college student for indiscretions in their youth.
      wizoddg
    • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

      @terry flores "Whether it is Facebook or something overheard in the restroom, an employer can decide that a person is detrimental to the company and fire them, just like that." Too many people take that and walk away just like that. The smart ones get even. I did. I cost the company almost $60,000 in fines ratting them out on everything from environmental issues to OSHA compliance after I was fired. Before I did that I ratted out management to corporate and got several of them fired or pressured into quitting and at least a dozen written up for stuff they were hiding from corporate that was costing the company nearly $100,000.

      So there's some food for thought when you want to just "boot" someone because it makes you feel good. Some of us don't take that sort of thing lightly. >:) And since it's against the law to discuss the reason I was terminated or anything pertaining to my employment there, if any future employer would have refused me that I can track back to the original company, I can also sue them. >:)

      Again be very careful of that "I can just fire you anytime I like" philosophy. I was the runt growing up. When you're the runt you learn to fight back or be harrassed for the rest of your life.
      blueskip
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip Good for you. Too many employees are under the impression that they have no case, have no footing, no leverage when treated badly by their employer. If bosses respect their employees and treat them like human beings - intelligent human beings - there would be no problem to start with.
        big red one
  • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

    If they can't keep their profile locked up, and the information is easily available, then I don't see why posting on Facebook is any different than if you were to say it out loud, say around the watercooler.

    However, if employers are actively hacking into workers profiles, then no.

    Simple solution to this would be not post anything work related to your Facebook/Twitter/Google+/etc
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

      @Cylon Centurion The simple solution would be privacy laws preventing termination based on anything online.
      blueskip
      • Really?

        @blueskip,

        So you're saying that, if someone has physically signed a non-disclosure contract, then they should be sued for breach of contract if they violate the contract while speaking over the telephone/on a radio show/on television, but *not* if they post it on a public blog or website for everyone to read?

        Like Cylon Centurion said, the *simplest* solution would be to not post anything online related to work, with the exception of:
        -- information already available to the public and/or in line with corporate policy
        -- you would be 100% conformtable repeating those words into a microphone in front of multiple news cameras on live TV (the equivalent of a public blog post)
        -- you are employed as the media representative of your company, and you are the public spokesman and/or point of contact for the media...and that your comments have already been reviewed & OK'ed by your bosses.

        If you can't meet one of the 3 criteria (or have a situation similar to one of the 3), then you can't blame anyone but yourself if your Internet/Facebook postings cost you your job.
        spdragoo@...
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip How is that privacy if you post it on Facebook? You're being silly if you think anything you post on Facebook is private, regardless of your settings.
        chrischeek@...
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip How is that privacy? You are being silly if you think anything you post online, especially Facebook, is private regardless of your settings.
        chrischeek@...
      • RE: Should employees be disciplined or fired over Facebook?

        @blueskip How is this privacy? You are being silly if you think anything you post online, especially Facebook, is private regardless of your settings.
        chrischeek@...