As American citizens we enjoy First Amendment rights to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. However, in an employment setting this does not mean that all of your speech is protected. The First Amendment has limited protections which primarily guard against the government censoring free speech rights.
When it comes to private employers, they may set their own rules about social media and blogging activities. For example, certain things you post in a blog or social media sites could act as grounds for your termination. This will depend on the type of employment arrangement and nature of your postings. It is generally the best practice to avoid venting about your employer on the Internet.
How Can My Social Media Posts Get Me Fired?
At-will employment is generally the most common type of employment arrangement. This means that an employer can terminate you and you can quit for any reason (unless based on discrimination or some other type of illegal grounds).
Almost every employer will give you an employee handbook at the beginning of your employment that you will be required to review and sign. This may include a specific rule or policy that addresses certain social media postings that could get you fired.
The following are common types of policies that are implemented by many employers:
- Posting negative comments about the company or your coworkers is grounds for termination;
- Disclosing company secrets is grounds for termination;
- Prohibition of using social media or blogging sites during work hours;
- Posting in a discriminatory manner is grounds for termination; and
- Posting vulgar or inappropriate comments is grounds for termination.
If you are in a contractual relationship with your employer, these types of conditions may be explicitly stated in your employment contract as well. Thus, if you violate any contract terms regarding posting things on the Internet then you could be fired.
Also keep in mind that the list above is not inclusive and will depend on your employer. Your employer may also have a discipline system in place where your first offense could result in a lesser form of discipline than termination, such as receiving a warning or being written up for your conduct.
What Types of Blogging and Social Media Activities are Protected?
There are still certain protected topics that you can blog or post on social media about without the fear of getting fired. This generally includes the following topics:
- Political Views: Some states provide protections for employees to post about their political views and affiliations without fear of getting fired.
- Whistleblowing Concerns: You cannot be fired for posting about a company’s illegal activity or any information that you are cooperating with an investigation regarding the same.
- Workplace Conditions: If employees are genuinely discussing unsafe working conditions or employment actions amongst themselves, this can be considered a protected activity.
- Your employer cannot fire you in retaliation for any valid concerns that you bring forth. However, these discussions must be made in furtherance of changing these working conditions. Complaining about your job on social media will not qualify under this exception.
- Posts Made on Personal Time: Some states will also afford protections for employees if their posts are made on their personal pages when they are not working. However, if the content posted is illegal this exception will not qualify.
Can I Take Legal Action if I Have Been Fired for a Blog or Social Media Post?
If you were fired for something your posted on the Internet and believe that you engaged in any of the protective speech outlined above, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. If you win this lawsuit you may ask for damages including back pay, reinstatement of your job or any lost wages or benefits that you incurred as a result of your termination.
However, keep in mind that this type of lawsuit may be difficult to win unless you clearly participated in a protective action (such as whistleblowing). If you are an at-will employee who signed off on your employer’s social media policies, you will likely not have a strong case if your speech was not clearly protected.
You should consider all of the factors before deciding to file a lawsuit. You could also attempt to settle the issue directly with your employer out of court, however, this could be difficult as well if you have already been terminated.
Should I Contact an Employment Attorney If I’m in Trouble for My Blog?
If you have been fired for content that you have posted on a blog or other social media account, you should contact an local employment attorney to determine if you have grounds to bring a wrongful termination lawsuit.
An attorney can determine whether your activities were protected under your state’s laws. An attorney can also review company policies or your employment contract to determine if any rules or terms were violated by your posts.