Human resources expert explains why online behavior is leading to terminations
A South Carolina fast-food worker was recently fired for a political joke she made on her social media page. In the last month alone, police officers and teachers alike have lost their positions after expressing their views online.
Several other employees across the country have faced workplace consequences for comments on their social media pages, with a mayoral aide in Massachusetts saying he lost his job due to his vociferous support of the Black Lives Matter movement on his social media.
So just how much freedom of speech is an employee permitted to have, and how can employers encourage responsible social media behavior while still respecting an employee’s privacy? Rob Wilson, President of Employco USA and a human resources expert, weighs in on this timely topic below.
“First and foremost, every company needs to have a social media policy,” says Wilson. “In the case of the Massachusetts mayoral aide who lost his position, his employer released him and cited their social media policy as their justification. A comprehensive social policy protects employers from accusations of bias, as any language and behavior out of the protected scope (regardless of whether it is a conservative or progressive view) can be cause for termination.”
Wilson says that now is a good time for employers to send out a reminder about their social media policies, or to create a policy if they do not have one already.
“Along with directing employees that any confidential information or client information cannot be posted online, you also need to have verbiage that forbids harassment, online bullying, and messages of a racist, bigoted or sexually explicit manner,” he says.
A Zoom meeting to refresh expectations for social media behavior may also be in order.
“A short 15-minute meeting detailing what kinds of political posts may get you in trouble is a worthwhile idea,” says Wilson. “While on the call, you can really drive home the message that you support your employees’ right to privacy and their right to their political opinions, but let them know that as company employees and representatives, they do need to demonstrate a certain degree of caution.”
And while most hourly workers at fast food companies aren’t signing social media policies, Wilson says the fast-food employee lost her job because she tweeted about tampering with a customer’s food.
“The employee was being tongue-in-cheek about serving a political candidate she didn’t like, but joking or not, she lost her job. This is a really good example that can serve as a teachable moment with your own employees. Even comments that are made as a joke can be grounds for termination if they threaten harm or disparage a class of people.”
For more on this topic, please contact Rob Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.