Most people use social media on a regular basis for entertainment, business, or staying in touch with friends and family, but the photos, comments, and posts they assume to be personal may cause problems for them at work. Employers have the right to check the social media accounts of prospective and current employees. They also have the right to discipline or even fire a worker whose social media activity violates company policies.
According to a PEW Research study, more than half of those surveyed said their employer had specific policies for social media use at work. More than 30 percent said their employer had guidelines for how employees present themselves online.
Social media users who post for personal reasons may not realize that their posts could get them in trouble at work. While posts occur on personal social media accounts, their employers found they may reflect negatively on their respective workplaces.
Why Might an Employer Have a Problem with My Social Media Activity?
In the overall history of the internet, social media platforms are still relatively new. That is why there is such a gray area when it comes to determining when online content conflicts with an employer’s message and when that content is protected as free speech. The following are common problems associated with employee social media posts:
- Reduces Productivity: In the PEW study, 77 percent of workers admitted to checking social media during the workday. While social media could provide a needed mental break, it can also be a significant distraction. The average employee spends around 40 minutes per day on social media, along with designated lunch and rest breaks. Those 40 minutes multiplied among a team of people equates to a significant loss in productivity.
- Damages Company Reputation: Some people are terminated because their social media activity damages their company’s brand. Back in 2017, an employee of a well-known fast-food chain was fired for tweeting photos of a filthy drip tray from the restaurant’s ice cream machine, along with photos of the floor that appeared to be covered in dirt, trash, and food. The company responded publicly, stating the photos did not represent their commitment to providing a clean and safe space for the public. However, the damage had been done.
- Disclosure of Confidential Information: Social media can be a place where employees knowingly, or unknowingly, reveal trademark information about their workplace. Workers who vent about their employer online may unwittingly be sharing proprietary information with competitors in blatant violation of basic non-disclosure policies.
How can I Avoid Getting in Trouble at Work for My Social Media Account?
A formal social media policy is the simplest way to avoid pitfalls. Many companies require new hires to consent to a social media policy before they start. Some of the elements of an effective employee social media policy include:
- Compliance with state and federal laws: Social media restrictions cannot violate personal privacy laws or be discriminatory in any way.
- Clear and concise stipulations: Language about social media posts on and off the clock should be easy to understand and to the point, as well as related to the business.
- Protection of confidential information: A corporate social media policy helps prevent employees from disclosing new products, trade secrets, and other proprietary information.
A social media policy addressing these issues can reduce questionable online activity and the need for time-consuming and costly litigation. To ensure a social media policy is effective, an employer must continue to educate staff on its importance and enforce violations as they occur.
Will a Prospective Employer Check My Social Media?
Today, employers check more than a resume when they vet a prospective employee. With a few clicks, they have access to an applicant’s public online presence. They are likely to weed out individuals whose social media activity does not align with the image the company wants to project. Before filling out an online application or going to an interview, anyone seeking a new job should do an online search to see what their possible future employer can find about them. They should then delete any questionable posts, photos, and comments.
Is it Ethical for an Employer to Monitor Employee Social Media Posts?
There are some who oppose employers looking at employee social media accounts. They believe that it threatens free speech and crosses the line between personal and professional lives. Employees may object to social media restrictions for a few reasons:
- Sense of distrust: Knowing an employer is monitoring their personal interactions can create a sense of distrust and even fear among staff.
- Invasion of privacy: Having one’s personal online activity monitored can feel like an invasion of privacy that crosses the line.
- Discourages social interaction: Social media is a means of communication. When that is restricted, workers feel detached from colleagues and discouraged from connecting online.
- Opens the door for discrimination: In this highly political climate, employees penalized for sharing their own personal or political views online may be experiencing illegal workplace discrimination.
Social media guidelines are a controversial topic, which is why employees should always consult with a trusted employment law attorney to ensure their rights in the workplace.
What Should I Do if My Boss Asks for My Login Info?
In Pennsylvania, and across the country, employers have the right to set guidelines for their staff’s social media activity, whether they post at work or at home. However, many states prohibit an employer from requesting social media login information. In Pennsylvania, the Social Media Privacy Act would do the same. However, there has been no action on that bill since 2013 and there are no immediate plans to revisit it. For that reason, most employment law attorneys would recommend a consultation before handing over access to their personal social media accounts.
Can My Employer Monitor My Computer Use at Work?
When it comes to work-related devices and accounts, the rules are different. Employers have the right to provide usernames, passwords, and access to those accounts at any time; that also includes company email and social media accounts. Employers can also monitor:
- Internet usage
- Downloaded programs
- When the keyboard and computer are being used
- Documents and files stored on company devices
- Anything displayed on a device home screen
- Company-provided cellphones
Can I Sue my Employer if I was Fired for a Social Media Post?
No two cases are exactly alike. Much depends on the employee’s intent when posting online, and the impact a photo, video, or other piece of social media had on the company’s image and reputation. The termination may be legal if the employee:
- Violated their employer’s social media contract
- Intentionally disclosed confidential information
- Used company equipment to post on social media
- Posted information that damaged the employer’s reputation
Beyond that, an individual terminated for seemingly harmless social media activity that is unrelated to their job may have cause to bring a legal claim for wrongful termination.
Philadelphia Employment Law Attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect Workers Facing Wrongful Termination
Free speech is part of our national identity and there are times an employer’s efforts to protect their brand veer too far into their employee’s personal lives and online habits. Philadelphia employment law attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. know your rights as a worker in Pennsylvania and vigorously defend them under the law. To discuss your case today, call 215-569-1999 or submit an online inquiry. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and South Jersey.