Can Companies Restrict Employees Use of Social Media?

Maybe not.

There is probably a case to be made for restricting usage of social networks by employees while they are at work.  But all bets are off when an employee goes home.  In fact, it is likely that U.S. companies cannot restrict employees from discussing their jobs, their bosses or even their working conditions on social networks at all.

At least that’s what seems to be the result of a recent U.S. federal lawsuit.

The National Labor Relations Board sued an ambulance company in Connecticut after it fired a worker for criticizing her boss on Facebook.  The NLRB argued that the ambulance company violated its employee’s freedom of speech when it fired her for the comments.

The case was settled out of court when the company agreed to change its social media policy that forbid workers from disparaging the company or its executives online.  The company also removed a provision from the policy that forbid employees from talking about the company at all on social networks without company permission.

The NLRB said such polices violate federal laws that protect employees from disciplinary actions by their companies for discussing wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers.

In this case, the woman employee launched into a profanity-laced tirade against her supervisor on her Facebook page from her home.  The status update received support from many of her co-workers.  The company fired her shortly afterward, but argued it did so not for the Facebook comments, but because of her poor work performance.  The NLRB wasn’t buying that.

This is only one lawsuit so it is difficult to make broad determinations based on it.  But many companies have policies that forbid employees from discussing their jobs on social networks.  Those companies may soon have to reconsider.

We’re in brand new territory here.

Companies that have a history of poor treatment of employees or those companies with bullying aggressive work environments are discovering that social networks are their worst enemies.  But on the other hand, companies should be able to forbid employees from sharing trade secrets, financial information, customer data and other important documents online.

What do you think?  Where do employee rights start and company rights end?  Should you be able to post anything you want online without fear of losing your job?


CNBC story on the lawsuit

Photo by Kathleen Conklin (via Flickr)

137 Responses to “Can Companies Restrict Employees Use of Social Media?”

  1. Eduardo Fandangle February 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I’m sure you’re not advocating the online bullying of managers/bosses then? It’s one thing to reflect on “stick it to the man” when discussing employees rights against an employer, it’s another to advocate the vilification of individuals in managerial positions.

    I guess this is also why most companies have guidelines in their HR policies about offensive behaviour during and outside of work hours. It’s just poor form to slam someone publicly for how you feel about them at work.

    Use some professionalism. Social Media is instant global publishing. If you want to tell someone in particular about your issues, give them a call or (crazy I know) go and actually talk to them.

    Where has common sense gone?

  2. No, I don’t advocate bullying of any kind.

  3. If your job is completely social media unrelated, than I would totally understand the ban. It’s not a wise use of company resources. I wouldn’t want my employees spending their time on any of it.

  4. Being a former small business owner I would disagree with the court ruling in this respect – I would never tolerate gossip within my company, nor would I tolerate negative conversations about the company or its employees. It is detrimental to productivity and moral. So with that said, I have absolutely no issues with people discussing their company politics on social media outlets , providing their discussions do not interfere in any way with the moral of my employees or cause issue with productivity. By all means they must adhere to the employee rules and standards as set forth in the employee hand book. Bottom line here with me…If you are going to represent my company,discuss company issues, it had better be in a positive professional manner or you might be finding your self explaining to me why your employment should continue. That why we have HR depts. I am not a fan of big brother dictating my companies ethics. If I am operating my business within the scope of law, stay out of my way.

  5. If I owned a big company, I would definitely restrict access to social media websites. That’s just not allocating your resources effectively by letting people update their twitter feed or whatever. People can use apps on their smart phones now to do stuff on social media sites which still make them less efficient.

  6. Discussing wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers is something that is always going to be done, no matter who says what. Most people are careful with whom and where they discuss those kinds of things. I don’t think that should be a crime. However, sharing trade secrets, financial information, customer data and other important documents is, obviously, a different story.
    I don’t think any company should have rights to tell anyone not to discuss personal feelings about work conditions or such outside of work. At the same time, common sense should tell people there may be repercussions at work for doing so, depending on what is said, to whom, and where.

  7. I real go with the freedom of speech thingy, but there should be moderation in all as well.

  8. I guess what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. Now that they say it is alright to slam your boss, what is now stopping managers from slamming slug employees on the social media. Will make it kind of hard for them to get jobs but, you can’t say it is alright for an employee and not his boss. Social media is too public and I therefore think some things should be left for gossip at a party etc. Keeps it more local and face to face. You can hide behind facebook with an alias if you want.

  9. We have free speach in America, but responsibility and freedom come together. You can say what you want how you want to, just think of what might happen if you do.

  10. If an employee’s public remarks are designed to denigrate an employer or company, that employee has no business representing the company. Why allow a mole to turn the tide of public opinion against your business?
    How many people stop to analyze whether the person speaking has had a bad day, is a regular jerk, or genuinely works in an abusive environment?
    According to this story, the NLRB is enforcing employees’ rights to discuss certain matters with co-workers. What I did not glean from the article was whether the post was on her public Wall or in a private message.
    If her remarks were made public, they were made the business of more than just her co-workers and should not necessarily be protected speech under the NLRB’s rules (in my humble opinion.)

  11. Freedom of speech is a right I take seriously. I should be able to criticize my employer if I want to, whether on FaceBook, a blog, after work having drinks with colleagues, on the phone to a friend, in the privacy of my own home, etc.

    Whether it’s a good idea to do so is an entirely different question. It’s best to think these things through. Will you benefit? How will it impact you if it gets back to your employer, and it will, as we see repeatedly.

    On the other hand, the employer is generally the Goliath to an employee’s David. So if I say something critical about my employer on FB and they fire me, what does it say about them? I don’t think employers are the ones who are likely to get bullied. It’s the employees who will tend to suffer, and I think the NLRB was right. Whether the woman was profane or not, she is entitled to her opinion.

    The employer should not have fired her, and when they did they just made a big deal out of something which, if they had left it alone, would have gone away by itself.

  12. Oakvillehomes makes an interesting point. There are supposedly laws in place (in some areas of North America) that make it possible for a former employee to sue their past employer for giving a bad reference, because it’s defamation of character and it caused them not to get a job (so they’re now out money they might be earning had the boss simply focused on the good, or not said anything). So maybe employers just need to turn that around on their employees. If one of my employees were on Facebook saying I’m a terrible boss and I make them do things that are simply untrue, perhaps instead of firing them I would sue them, so they’ll be working for me for the rest of their lives paying off that court debt. Realistically though, I’d sit them down and say “If you’re not happy here, you are more than welcome to leave now, I don’t want anyone feeling like they have to be here. If you have anything to discuss, discuss it with me before making a public spectacle of it, otherwise, I’d appreciate if you kept those comments to yourself”.

    This is a great example of why companies need to document other issues well, and have employees sign forms when they are written up for other issues, that way if a company says “we fired them for a completely different reason”, they have proof that the employee was spoken to about their performance on a number of occasions and they were simply no longer a useful member of the team.

  13. The use of the company’s time could be managed better if employees were compensated for performance and not attendance.

  14. Firing anyone at anytime is a real risk. It has to be done for a justifiable provable rational reason. If the real reason is anger over questionable Social Media comments soak your application in gas and bake it at 451F for an hour while you reconsider the process. Best of luck.
    Let’s talk about something simple like euthanasia instead.

  15. I don’t think people should be fired automatically for stupid FB posts. But then people would have a little common sense also. Things you say to a few people or coworkers is griping we all do. But posting it on the internet for the whole world to see? You better have a darn good reason to say something derogatory. There’s no taking it back.

  16. cursing ur employer on facebook, or to someone, like friends and colleagues are the same, the only difference is that on facebook it spread out faster cse its to a much bigger audience, and its easier to access. But both are wrong and improper, and if your boss finds out, he has the right the punish you. Cse in the ends, its not only damaging the image of your employer, but the whole company also, as you also represent that company. I think people dont have common sense when they criticize their employer on social networks. Its dumb and stupid and very risky. Management can keep the employee, then gradually make their life a living hell at work, and force them to quit.

  17. Depending on how tech savvy you are, you can always run your connection through an SSH tunneled proxy. Then, because your proxy encrypts over SSH through their BUSINESS proxy, all they see is the encrypted traffic while you surf the web with impunity!

  18. Employers have the right to monitor/limit employees’ use of FB and other social networking at work. The employees are being paid for their time (among other things) and employers have a recognized interest in making sure that employees use that time to actually, you know, WORK.

    That being said, once the employee goes home, all bets are off. As far as I’m concerned, they’re completely free to do and say what they like from their home computer, or any public computer that they legally access. If that includes being critical of the company (in ways that do not involve divulsion of trade secrets, sensitive financial information, or violations of privacy and/or harassment laws), then I think the company needs to suck it up and deal.

    If an employee delivered a profanity-laden rant about their boss at a bar, could he or she be fired for that? (If they can, whatever happened to free speech in America?) It’s just as public as Facebook. And before anyone mentions that the bar rant is fleeting and temporary, while FB is permanent and “open for the world to see” …

    How much of the world is actually looking — and of that part of the world, how many people actually care?

  19. Talking to your “friends” on a social media is like going to the company break area and using a megaphone. Once something is said on-line, it can get anywhere and everywhere – fast. I believe in free speech. I also believe in consequences.

    People at every level of an organization should show others respect. If someone slings profanities in a public forum towards managers, coworkers or even customers, I suggest that calls for disciplinary action. It is about a company culture of respect and to be successful, it has to work (be enforced) in every direction.

    At face value, I don’t agree with this ruling. I wonder if the employee went back to this job that she so clearly despised and I wonder how her next place of employment is going to work out. I wonder these same things about the boss in question. And I wonder when folks will learn to think before they type. 🙂

  20. I can see blocking people from using social media while at work, on the clock, and doing a job completely unrelated to social media, but on their own time, away from work? Go nuts, say whatever’s on your mind. Freedom of speech and all that. As others said, as long as it’s not slanderous, libel, or other sorts of lies, and not giving away proprietary information.

  21. I’ve worked for companies where this issue is totally in force. Unless it is work related, you are not allowed use a social network. But that in itself can be a catch-22 situation, especially if you know someone, in the social network which can help you find the information you are needing. As far as talking about your employer, fellow employees, not at work. I agree there is a time and a place for everything, yet how you handle it is something else. I feel if you are going to discuss you employment with others, you can complain or whatever in a professional manner, especially if you know some of your fellow employees are also on the same network. I agree with crashsuit, totally on his post. You can post your opinions, however if they are slanderous, libel or lies, then it would be better to keep your mouth shut.

  22. acrankywomansview February 11, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I think that if people had a healthy respect for their employers they wouldn’t be biting the hand that feeds them and we wouldn’t need laws to regulate professional behavior away from the work place- just sayin’.

  23. Obviously if it’s company sensitive information it should not be allowed, but if it’s general complaints it should be allowed. More times than not it’s only going to affect that individual’s future in the company, for example, not getting promotions, etc. If your boss sees/hears you complaining, what kind of future can you expect?

  24. I find it interesting that many of the comments are about productivity. U.S. workers are the most productive in the world – mostly because of technology. There is no evidence that access to social media sites prohibits or decreases productivity. In fact, it could increase productivity by giving workers fast access to information and peers.

    Also remember that the U.S. has few laws to protect workers and non-union workers (even executives without contracts) are employees at will and can easily be removed compared with workers in other developed nations. Other countries put citizenship and national rights before the rights of companies. That’s not always the case in the U.S.

    It’s a very interesting topic so thanks to everyone for commenting…

  25. Have you directly managed or supervised anyone in your jobs?

    Wouldn’t you wonder about hiring someone who didn’t exercise enough discretion and judgement on what they said about their employers or jobs? There is a way of discussing one’s job or jobs without being mean and slanderous.

    There are also times that smart employees just know not to publicly discuss matters, particularily those who have been shown company OR government confidentiality written policies (if one works in public sector)on confidential /organizational information, clients and other employees.

    Who cares about the openness, uncontrolled nature of social media? It’s the individual’s responsibility what they say….at their peril.

    The Internet and social media have not changed much for employers. But it has placed greater responsibility on individuals to protect themselves by thinking twice wha they write and post via the Internet where there are digital breadcrumb trails.

  26. Hi Jean:
    Yes, I manage employees and, yes, judgment is an important asset.

    People should be responsible for what they say, but it is a matter of what the consequences should be that’s under discussion.

    I’d also disagree that social media hasn’t changed much for employers. It has been a sea change for employers.

  27. Hi
    If you want to chat with your friends,Dont go office.simply sit in home and do it.Office is only for work.No one is willing to do office work in home.then why u expecting the other.

  28. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I also found this case to be very interesting and wrote a post just over a month ago discussing some of the dynamics of the case:

    I discuss some recent statistics in the piece which suggest that there are many other organizations out there that have begun disciplining or firing employees for their social media activities. As similar cases begin to crop up it will be interesting to see how industry reacts to adjust their social media policies and procedures.

  29. From my understanding of the current legal framework, this might be an exception to the rule. Most courts have been upholding employer actions to limit what their employees post online. However, most of the cases coming up deal more with how the worker’s online posting could harm the company. Here, we have a woman attacking an individual employee (her boss) and not the company as a whole…thus less justification for limiting speech.

    Now, is it right to limit speech like this? Where do we draw the line? Is this that much different from slandering or libeling someone (which constitutes tortious activity)? I don’t think it’s as easy of a 1A free speech case as some have suggested lately.

  30. Two things:

    1- I agree that a company should have the right to restrict one’s access to social media sights while they are at WORK, or if they are using a work laptop/computer.

    2- I do not agree that a company’s ‘laws’ should extend beyond the workplace. If I want to complain about my boss, company or people I work with on my FB page (for example), it should be my right to do so – it’s my page and the only people who can see my page are my friends. It’s none of my boss’ business what I say on FB. That said, I think one should exercise caution anyway – I mean, if I were to complain, I wouldn’t mention the company’s name, nor would I mention fellow colleagues’ names or those of my boss. But as freedom of speech still exists, I could if I wanted to, and not be punished for it.

  31. It’s not a good idea to bad-mouth your boss or your company on Facebook. It’s tactless, inconsiderate, passive-aggressive, disloyal and probably the least effective way to resolves any workplace issues that you might have.

    But you still have the right to do it. I can understand the employer being upset, but think of it as a chance to figure out what’s got this employee so worked up that they feel the only thing to do is launch into a “profanity-laced tirade.”

    Are there legitimate workplace issues that need to be resolved for which you have not created a support system? Does your management need re-training to be able to identify and head off potential employee issues? Are there channels in place so that disgruntled employees can express their problems with the way things are run and be sure that their concerns are fairly heard and taken seriously? It is the duty of management to make sure its employees work in an environment where they feel their work is appreciated and necessary, which I reckon the woman in question here did not.

    As long as it’s just venting, of course, and on one’s own time. If the employee is trying to represent the company to outside interests or giving away privileged information, then by all means – bring down the hammer. Likewise if they’re spending working hours on social media when they have actual work to do.

  32. It seems to me that comments made about people or about organizations through social networks should be considered in the same way as such comments made in person.
    For example, if someone is complaining to a friend in a coffee shop, that is different than someone standing on a park bench making a spectacle of themselves, ranting about their company or boss to a gathered crowd.
    In other words, trade secrets and confidentiality excepted, I think it depends on the privacy settings of the social media account (which shows the intention of the person, if they are “broadcasting” or merely griping to a specific group)and the nature of the statements made (bullying, threats, harassment, “hate speech”, slander, etc.).
    If it would be reasonable or legal in the real world, it should be so online, as well.

  33. Kesh Raj கண்ணன் February 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

    I certainly do not think that you should voice out your unhappiness of a company on social media. I mean, come on. You are a part of the company when you actually posted that comment. Social reputation for a company is important as it brings you a job eventually. By you harming that reputation, social effects will arise, and slowly you will have less chances of having a job.

    So why voice it out on social media?
    Get the mobile phone or the chatroom.

  34. I strongly agree with gfsnell that employees should be restricted the use of social media. Social media is a public medium for individuals to communicate with numerous people on the world wide web. This social media has the capabilities and influences to bring down an organization or other people. However, as we are granted the right to freedom of speech, Social media was created in order for people to voice themselves.
    Those last statements that i just wrote, might seem as if im jumping sides but its not like that.
    The countless number of policies that corporations have in place are to help protect the business from (forgive my tone) idiots that just want to bring attention to themselves and mke the busisness look at the enemy. In terms of social media usage while at work, I support the prohibition of it more than just the use of the medium if it was at home. When you go to work, you are doing as i just work, GOING TO WORK. There is no need for distractions that could possibly affect the quality of work. If at home or during any time of leisure, I do not have an issue with but at work is completely different. You are getting paid to productively move the company forward not bring it down.
    Below i just wanted to relate some personal information about my experience with social media.
    My personal experience with social media occured just last year. I went to apply at the sheriff’s department in the county that I reside in. After completing the Pyshical Agility Test, fellow applicants and I were taken to the conference room where the Sargent came in to discuss department policies. This Sargent was head of human resources and hiring department. At the end of his informative lecture, he concluded that if he found out during the course of this application process that any of us disclosed any department information or badmouthed the department on any form of social media or word of mouth, that we would be removed from the applicant pool and could face other consequences. If hired and such actions were heard of, we could be terminated and face charges and/or other reprimands. I forgot what the Sargent had called this action of down grading the department but could be a serious offense that they would not tolerate. Now in other jobs that I have held, that same policy have been in place. I just think that businesses should INDEED have policies that protect against employees that want to use social media as a form of revenge or retaliation. Emlpoyees were hired with intent of working for the business and generating revenue. As a employee, we represent the business that we work for and should be considerate of the actions that we chose to engage in.
    In closing to all those against social media and work,If you do not like your job and your superiors…..JUST QUIT. There is no need to bring down any organization and thier subunits(employees) just becuase your boss favors someone esle and you just suck at what you do. One word of advice? shut up and just work better. If you can not work better, LEARN or get out.

  35. It’s not a legal or technological issue–it just shows very bad judgement and an employer should be entitled to consider that in employment decisions.

  36. No companies cannot restrict employees using social media but they can definetly have control on these kind of activity and also keep regular watch on the employees which site they are suffering and how can you motivate them to their work without restricting them.

  37. I’m an elementary teacher, and sometimes I get connected with my students and their parents through social network. I also blogging about my activities at school with my students, about art n craft projects we’re doing in the classroom and share my blog posting on my facebook wall. Got many positive comments so far, and the parents know what their kids doing at school. Isn’t that good? So, what it should be restricted? Most of the time, I’m blogging and facebooking after school hour, anyway.

  38. As someone currently writing a blog about my work experiences this is an issue I’ve given some degree of thought to.

    No doubt if my employer found my blog they’d probably be less than impressed with the content and there would be a fair likelihood that they would try to fire me.

    My defence would be that I am not identifying the company, their clients, or my colleagues. My aim is to comment on processes and power relationships within a particular section of a particular industry, hopefully providing an avenue for debate about these.

    I feel that I do have a right to do this, but have responsibilities to be careful about preserving individuals anonymity. Though I am less concerned from an ethical standpoint about identifying the company as a whole, it is the threat of losing my job, and the fact that it could lead to identification of myself and colleagues that keeps me from preserving this.

  39. Sorry, I mean… that keeps me preserving this!

  40. AncientFootsteps February 12, 2011 at 6:16 am

    This post seems to refer specifically to legislation in the USA but that isn’t made clear at the top of the entry

  41. The Very Hungry Bookworm February 12, 2011 at 7:31 am

    I think the important thing to remember, in any type of social media, it to understand that anyone can read it. Don’t post pictures you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. Don’t say something about somone that you wouldn’t say to their face.

    Of course, criticism shouldn’t be the only reason to fire someone, but people need to remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences for what you say.

  42. That’s an interesting case in point. As for me, I do my best to always be careful on whatever I post publicly online because I know that people have different point of views and even my most objective comment about an issue on someone or something can be mis-interpreted.

    As much as possible, if I have to express any constructive criticism, I bring it to the attention of the person involve first before I escalate the issue to someone/somewhere else.


  43. What some employees will never enjoy is the ability to speak freely or candidly to their managers to improve whatever situation is so frustrating to them, or their manager is unwilling or unable to make a change that would resolve the situation. Yes, this is a passive-aggressive way to behave but having worked in several places filled with unexpressed ire, I can see the temptation.

    The U.S. already exercises a shocking amount of control over employees; I say this as a 22-year expat in NY from Canada. I had to take a drug test in NY to win a job as a newspaper reporter (? not exactly operating heavy chinery) and job applicants’ credit histories are often examined and used against them. Workers have very few rights, which is where this sort of behavior stems from. There are few ways to fight back.

    Just quit? In the worst economy since the Depression, with millions seeking new jobs for more than six months? Not likely for most people.

    The larger issue, unresolvable in a nation focused on productivity, is the ongoing impotence of labor versus the incredible political and economic power of employers. It’s rare they get their wrist slapped.

  44. Hi Ancient Footsteps:
    I added U.S. to the first paragraph to clarify that this, indeed, an issue in the United States – and not necessarily a European or Asian one. This blog is based in the U.S. and writes almost exclusively about PR, media and social media issues in the U.S.

  45. As far as getting on these sites at work…if people would just check it every now & then…I think that is ok. But too many abuse it. Stay on it all the time & don’t do much work. It got to the point where some at my work were staying on all the time & now they have blocked Facebook, Ebay, & You Tube. Ruined it for everybody!

  46. Keep in mind that the case I write about the woman worker accessed her Facebook page from home – not work.

    The argument isn’t about where workers are accessing their accounts – but whether or not employers can control the content of what they post there.

  47. I really feel that this is two separate issues.

    I absolutely think that it should be illegal to regulate what we can and cannot say on social media, with the obvious exemption of comments regarding company secrets or private information.

    However, I also think the company should have every right to fire an employee for publicly slandering a company or significant individual at a company because that employee is not doing a good job of representing the company.

  48. Nonsensical lover. February 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Who would’ve thought there would be ramifications for publicly crapping on your employer?

  49. The Facebook thing is a red herring – I suspect the ambulance company needs to review its dismissal porcedures. You can get rid of anybody if you do it by the book.

  50. Freedom of speech is very important and it should not be restricted without a very good reason. Certainly, those who feel the need to do so often give support to the position that there was something to complain about in the first place—be it a mismanaged company or East Germany.

    However, I see at least two areas that need special consideration:

    1. There may be types of information that do disproportionate harm when spread (even of such kind that there are laws or contractual regulations that forbid the spreading) and where professional discretion demands that an employee be silent. Drawing the lines can be tricky, but a clear-cut example would be a secretary tweeting details about an internal “how low an offer are we willing to accept” discussion to the public (which includes the potential makers of the offer).

    (Exceptions exist, however: Going to the papers about illegal practices could do immense harm to the employer, but that should not be the overriding concern.)

    2. There are cases when the statements made are of such character that it is not reasonable to expect the employer to accept a continuation of employment, due to irreparable damage to trust, the personal relationship, or similar. Consider a small company where the owner has repeated daily contacts with an employee—and this employee writes gross insults on Facebook, speaks of how he would like to shot the owner, and similar.
    (In contrast, merely stating that a particular middle-manager is incompetent should not be a valid reason for a firing. Again, obviously, the exact borders between valid and invalid will be hard to draw in more general cases.)

  51. I think the question at hand is really how far does a company’s control extend in terms of what the employees do. Restricting employees social networking while actually at work is not the issue, since they are being paid for their time. The real question is what should employees be allowed to do when they’re off the clock.

    Initially of course, we say “No!” to any type of outside control into our private lives. This is natural. However, it’s also important to consider the interests of the company. In this case I think it would be appropriate for the company to take some type of action in relation to comments made on facebook. Personally I feel like online statements should be given equal status with something actually stated in real life. What would you do if an employee were to say those things to the supervisor in person? The result can be just as harmful online, sometimes more.

    Each company needs to start establishing their own policies in regards to this issue and be very up front with employees about it. A lot of problems would be avoided if employees knew that they would be held accountable for disparaging statements made on social network sites.

  52. They can and do. It sucks monkeys.

  53. Can any negative social media postings be considered as libel? Maybe that can be used against employees.

  54. The employee should have freedom of speech. And the company should have the freedom to fire an employee.

    With that being said, the title of this post is a little misleading.

  55. well the employes Must Hav their Freedom.

  56. Its wise not to put too much stuff out there anyways. It seems now days folks dont have anything better to do than to play I gotcha. That the first amendment is dependant on how much money you have, that is, if your rich you can donate to your local politican and get them to speak for you and change the law to your liking, but if your a working stiff in this economy they look for ways to fire you if the company dont like what you say. If what you say is true and puts the company in a bad light, its more than likely they will do something deleterious to you employment.

  57. To me its all about freedom of speech. It would be dumb for someone to be on facebook, myspace, or twitter while at work, unless they are on break and using a mobile application, however, It is wise to watch what you post. Sometimes blabbing about your boss on the internet may not be the wisest thing, however they cannot fire you lawfully if you do post something about your job.

  58. Having recently been fired from my job at Blockbuster (in the UK) for speaking about a company that does business with them and about a friend who rented from me and was late, I can say from experience that head office will fire an employee for anything they can, even if it does not break their company guidelines by saying there is a “loss of trust” by the business. Even if the worker is generally a very good employee. They also class it as ‘gross misconduct’ so you can be fired for a first offense even with a clean record, like I was. Meaning that I cannot get a good reference and it was as bad as if I was caught stealing.

    I can say although explicit the comments were made in good humour and had nothing to do with the Company other than the fact I was talking about things I had heard about at work. Was it right of them to fire me for speaking my mind? Speaking my mind about issues that are part of free speech in a public forum? I say no and should probably go to an employment tribunal just prove it to them.

  59. @ Eduardo: sure, you go up to your boss and tell him he’s a grade-A asshole and the only reason you’re putting up with how shittily he treats you and other employees is for the sake of not disgracing the woman who hired you. See how long you keep YOUR job.

  60. There are three exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine:

    Public Policy
    Implied contract
    Covenant of Good faith

    Only 11 states recognize convenent of good faith, which recognizes malicious termination. This sounds malicious to me. But freedom of speech might fall under public policy and that may be why the judgement was made.

    If you are being treated poorly at work, the company could be liable for creating a toxic work environment. Contact the Bureau of Labor in your state. You have the right as an employee to be treated fairly.

  61. I don’t have a Facebook, and I don’t plan to get one. It seems to me that it is more trouble than it is worth, I’d rather not connect with people outside of work, who I’ve met before, etc. I know that employers now check out people’s facebooks and also know they definitely check out employees facebook. I like keeping my private life private, so I just stay out of it.

  62. For an employee, discussing and criticising wages, working conditions, superiors and colleagues is natural and something which should be done if you want to be aware about your working environment. It’s not right for a company to control or curb any of this, they can’t do it on social media either.
    I believe that this is a responsibility of the employees not to make these things public, especially on social networks, where anybody can see these things. If they strongly feel about any policy or about anybody in their workplace, they should rather talk face-to-face, rather than hiding behind a facebook profile!

  63. I’ve just posted about this happening in Australia too with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia….

  64. Software_Goddess February 13, 2011 at 2:05 am

    I worked for a company that had employees sign a promise not to use the company name in any way on social media sites. According to the contract you could talk about work as much as you liked and as harshly as you wanted, as long as the general public would have no way of knowing what company you were talking about. I agreed with the contract and therefor I signed it. Venting and letting your friends and family know what you are going through is one thing; messing with a company’s bottom line is another. I’m glad we have courts to determine when someone has crossed the line between freedom of speech and deformation of character.

  65. I don’t have a Facebook, and I don’t plan to get one 🙂

  66. I do not have ay time for Facebooking during 8 hours working, people have something to do or not?
    If not, please take the cloth and clean the office!

  67. Ignoring issues of morality and decency, one clearly has a right to say what one likes about anyone else, anywhere one likes. But that person or company or organisation has an equal right to lay charges of slander, liable, or various other nasties. If it is one’s own company, then dismissal is also a remedy. I haven’t read this case, but I suspect the problem here is that the company tried to hide the real issue and call it poor performance, which they failed to prove. Had they stuck to the real issue, they may have won.
    It does depend on the severity of the charge. Was it really bad, or did it just annoy the CEO? I suspect the latter; otherwise why try to dress it up as poor performance?
    Good post, generating good discussion and well deserving of the Freshly Pressed accolade! Thanks.

  68. I just think it’s not about facebooking at work!
    It is obvious, do what you want as your work has been done!
    It seems to me that the article is more about critisizing the company you work for! As a French Blogger I can inform you that French law recently punished an employee sued by his boss because he expressed himself in a public way on Facebook, wether the internal company’life is private.

  69. Restriction should be to an extent.

  70. When we degrade anyone, it comes with consequences. Perhaps she should have taken her personal opinion and kept it just that, personal.

  71. I use social networks at work sometimes when it helps my work. Twitter allows me to network with other people in similar jobs to me and share ideas and links to websites that are useful. A tweet takes a very small amount of time to read.
    However I know that what I post can be read by other people so I need to be careful what I say, and I understand it is not just read by people who I have added as friends. I do not have control as to what my friends then show to other people. If you have many co workers as friends on facebook then bad mouthing someone from work is like saying it at a work party, it’s going to get back to the person somehow, if they didn’t over hear you saying it in the first place. Last time I checked launching into a profanity-laced tirade to a large group of people is called back stabbing and a form of bulling, and spreading of gossip. Neither of which make for a healthy work place. Some form of action against the employee should be taken.
    Moral of the story think about what you are saying and to who you are saying it to before you start speaking.

  72. i will not mentioned that “I wouldn’t want my employees spending their time on social websites.”.
    i believe that they may need social media websites in their work. they may need to ask their friends in any work problems or any something like that.

  73. If people hate their employer so much, get the hell out of there!

    Without seeing the actual words written, I cannot pass comment. However, if the remarks were slanderous, then the company may have had a just reason for the sacking. The written word is somewhat permanent, even in the digital world. What is written today has a good chance of being on the internet in 5 years time. The reputation of a person/company can be tarnished indefinitely, even after steps have been taken to improve the situation.

  74. Thanks for the visit, and the reply to my post. I really enjoyed what you had to say and found it quite relevant (as you read) to my own office dynamic.

    Also, congrats on being freshly pressed — you definitely deserved it!

  75. I think with anything, a line has to be drawn. I think private company information should definitely not be put online. And I think it’s crude to swear and complain about a boss online.

    The most important thing social networks are doing for companies, is making companies accountable for their actions. That’s why people love it, because they get to see reviews of a product before they buy it. And if people are THAT upset with their employer, either they need to quit or something is really wrong with that company. There should be a line, although it’s very hard to decide where it should be drawn at this point.

  76. Badmouthing the company or boss will not help your performance rating or climb up the corporate ladder. Some things are best said in private and not written for all to see.

  77. And badmouthing a boss IN PUBLIC and in writing may also ruin one’s chances of getting their next job. Word travels fast within industries.

  78. What goes on after work hours is NONE of the company’s business IMHO. If something is read online, then maybe you should check your privacy settings. Companies hide behind corporate lawyers. They can make your life a living hell. Even if they lose, was it worth it?

    Check your friends list. Either you have to block the company or boss on your friends list (why would you even have your boss on your friends list or fan the company page if it had one!?) Get another FB page for venting. Or just keep it between you and those you trust and keep it off FB.

    Same thing for Twitter as well.

    Be careful what you say. It may come back to haunt you. We live in a “big brother is watching” world now. No one has rights anymore.

    Oh what tangled Facebook webs we weave.

  79. I agree with ryoko861, and am compelled to add that the large company I work for is so paranoid that all web-based e-mail (yahoo, gmail, etc.) is blocked in addition to social networking sights. I find it ironic, though, because the company solicits facebook and twitter followers on its public website.

  80. Companies these days should be held accountable for how they treat their employees. If thwy don’t want to be slammed in the social networks than they need to start treating their employees like real people.

    The newest generation of workers are having an extremely difficult time with the old way of running business and as such would rather pursue happiness than put up with the corporate tyrany. These newbies get labelled as undisciplined whiners, but I honestly feel that they’re on to something. Is it really wrong to want to do your absolute best for your employer (and expect the same in return)? Is it weird to think that a happy worker is a productive worker? Is being ambitious really mean that I have to suck up and back-stab people on the way up? This new generation have therefore introduced a new set of tools and set a new set of rules to go along with it. It like saying we’re not doing what we’re doing because we have to, but because we WANT to.

    In regards to what should and shouldn’t be presented on FB. Facts should be presented with dates, times, names, and the event(s) in question, instead of slanderous allegations such as ‘so and so is a ****’. The latter is simply not informative.

  81. I see a Freudian slip in my previous posting: it should be ‘sites’ and not ‘sights’…

  82. This is a two fold issue: The freedom of speech is an issue yes, but What about libel? Its in print, so I would assume a lawsuit could be brought. I also wonder about confidentiality. I work at a local preschool, and confidentiality is VERY important! We cannot speak about our jobs on facebook anymore than a teacher can discuss her students performance on facebook. I would say that employees and employers shouldn’t friend each other on facebook. If you wouldn’t hang out with them at the bar socially, don’t friend them! I do know of some companies, and school districts, that require they are given access to facebook pages in order to monitor posts. I don’t know what the law says about that, but I believe that to be wrong. There is also a policy I’ve heard of where employees may not friend their clients on facebook (isn’t it for networking to begin with?) This I also believe to be wrong. Its a complicated subject. But here is the bottom line: It is YOUR social life. Your boss does not have any more right to tell you what you can and cannot do on facebook any more than he can tell you who you can and cannot hang out with while you’re not working. However, be careful what you put in black and white, because legally, you may be defaming someone’s character. unfortunately not all people on facebook have good sense, and not all employers are willing to trust their employees.

  83. Is it me, or does everyone else feel a chill run down their back when they hear that an employer can fire someone for what they say on their own time? If a person is spending their work time on Facebook or some other social networking site, then it’s the company’s business, because they’re not doing the job they were hired to do. Nor should a person be free to tell competitors anything about the company they work for. That said, once a person leaves their place of work, what they say and where they say it should absolutely be none of their employer’s business. If we start allowing companies to dictate what we say, what happens next? Will they be free to “advise” their employees on whom to vote for? What religion they follow? What books or publications they read? If a person writes something that isn’t true about a company, then they have the recourse of suing said employee in the courts. Then again, to do that, they have to prove that what the employee said was not true, and that opens up a whole can of worms most companies would not want to see opened, so…

  84. Freedom of speech comes first and foremost.

    The courts have already determined that it is illegal for a corporation to admonish someone for posting anything which they “feel” is true…

    A corporation may legally deny internet access during a persons “working hours”, but “breaks” and “lunch time” are “personal time” and may be used for internet browsing and posting unless the company has rules against such usage.

    An individual can use their personal phone to browse the internet and post at any time, as their personal devices do not belong to their employers… and as long as their employers do not have anti-phone-usage language in their employee contracts (and if they do, you can always just “use the restroom” or go on a break to bypass these rules).

  85. They should make them stop using sites like Facebook or other social networks and Google powered spyware “free” services if they want to keep their company secrets and decency !!!

    Facebook and Google are some of the biggest threats to your privacy and security and your company’s also and just take a moment to think about it ! If you don’t believe, try to inform yourself, try looking at to see how you look in google’s or other search engines data base. But especially Google, since this one is the biggest privacy violator on this planet. Facebook is just the same, they even got your pictures and all your details, your friends or family if you’re dumb enough to give them. Everyone is searching that, from governments, to criminals of all sorts. Google on the other hand, just lately made a storage facility in Moutnain View, where they can keep EVERYTHING they know about you FOREVER, without your consent….or did someone asked you about that ? If you allow them to keep your search data, emails and everything ?! I guess not and me neither !

    But there are alternative, fellows, try looking at the search engine, at or is just google search WITHOUT logging ! So try using that, if you still can’t live without google’s biased search results.

    So my answer/opinion on this thread is YES, as I am a business owner and know what it means to have your employees posted everywhere and searching brainless into search engines. Your profiles are sold, you are attacked by marketers, data miners, everyone. Try to think about it, we live in a world where Google is in fact evil and facebook is worst than police, so wake up people.

  86. I believe a company has a right to forbid their employees from speaking of company tasks, agenda etc… but that’s it. A company has no right to threaten their workers with termination in the case of sharing criticism and/or emotion regarding that said company. An employer has no control over the freedoms of their workers. If they consider their workers a threat and wish for them not to disparage the company in a public form, they should be paid around the clock.

    I for one, will not work for an employer when I’m not clocked in. Will you?

  87. The freedom of speech is not a privilege, It is a right. We are born with these natural rights under god, or whomever you preach. We cannot neglect the freedoms of a naturally born citizen for the sake of a company. It is unconstitutional and wrongful termination for a worker to lose their job, if and only if, the company receives no harm from the workers shared criticism. Once we begin to lose our rights as a people, we will be headed for a world of total government and company control. Fight it.

  88. It’s one thing for someone to blab about company secrets. It’s something else entirely to fire an employee because they state on FB they hate their boss. I don’t care what your company is, you don’t have the right to restrict another person’s freedom of speech.

  89. What happened to the First Amendment?? But be smart about it when it involves your work or people you work with…it’s just common sense.

  90. Every fundamental right like freedom of speech comes along with some kind of responsibility. We just can’t focus on the freedom part and ignore the responsibility that comes along with it. When we are doing a job we are responsible for it and are bound to obey the confidentiality clauses that comes along. If there are issues at workplace they should be resolved inside office walls and shouldn’t be a matter of gossip on social media platforms. That’s a basic level of matured behavior.

  91. doing a job we are responsible for it and are bound to obey the confidentiality clauses that comes along. If there are issues at workplace they should be resolved inside office walls and shouldn’t be a matter of gossip on social media platforms. That’s a basic level of matured behavior.

  92. Good tips – thanks for sharing!

  93. They can, they do but they have no right to inquire into your private net life(your FB page,etc) if they are not willing to allow you access to these things as well.

    Employers often have some eves dropping problems, be careful:)
    Unless you work for yourself. 🙂

  94. If a company sucks, presumably, so does its HR department. And, having been there, I can bet on the fact, that one would go the FB way to discuss company policy only when other ways fail.

    And the consistency with which employers detest what employees call “freedom of speech” is a good indication of what they might lose if people start sharing facts and feelings about their company policies online.

    Having said that, I’m still wondering if employers can actually ban boss-baiting on social networks based on the premise that it hurts people’s morale! Because I don’t see how an employee can be vilified for anything other than sharing classified information or portraying a false image of one’s employer.

    Why doesn’t anyone think of investigating how one’s morale dipped enough to cause one to discuss one’s boss on FB! 😛

  95. Dont add your boss as your friend at FB 😛
    Dont use ur FB at work time. Company dont pay u to play FB in work time.
    dont post something about “your company badness” at your FB 😀

  96. I am amazed at how foolish some posters are here. Even sadder is their lack of understanding of “Freedom of Speech.”

    Only the most stupid people talk “out of school.” Post negative comments on FB about your job, and you just gave your boss a reason to fire you. The only thing more stupid than discussing your job on FB, is discussing your “love” life. Dumb.

    The Constitution is a restriction upon Government, specifically the US Government. It is NOT a restriction upon private companies.

  97. Hmm,

    Has anyone commenting on here ACTUALLY READ the actual comments made?

    People are reacting to something that they have NO IDEA of what was written!

    Yes, people react to news, but it is dangerous to react without seeing for yourself what caused it.

    Read the original Facebook comments and put yourself in the position of an employer that has been targeted by them. Maybe you’ll change your mind about what is acceptable.

    If someone swore at and wrote potentially slanderous comments about you, you’d probably want to go and punch thier lights out for verbally attacking you! But you’d be the one getting charged with Actual Bodiliy Harm if you did.

    Be careful what you say: In the UK, if a person makes comments that constitute a THREAT of violence, that in itself is a criminal assault against a person, and if that person believes that the person making the threat is capable of carrying it out.

  98. I am amazed at slanderers preaching etiquette. As far as I see, the Constitution doesn’t seem to deter mean-mannered commentators from practicing their trade.

    You get booked when a big brother organization hauls you up by the collar. And some intellectuals out here seem to be ok about it. So, I ask, what’s the fuss about, fellas? Go ahead and swear you hearts out!

  99. Information wants to be free.

  100. Great post with very strong views. – Thank you! Love the site.

  101. Good post. People nowadays seems very opened throughout social networking (twitter/facebook), not knowing that there’s no boundaries exist between the real world and internet. Therefore, we as an employee/person must become wise in getting our way on the “virtual world”. Know how to position our self in it, and not getting any negative feedback. Not that I’m suggesting not to expressed your feeling freely, but as an adults we have to be responsible to what we speak and do things.

  102. We looked at this issue, as well:

    It’s interesting to see the way the restrictions on social media are covered in many of today’s business books. Many authors have suggested that a policy of transparency, clearly communicated to staff, is the best way to prevent either side from feeling maligned.

  103. I always try to keep my private life private and my work life at work. Sure that is not always easy. Your Current employer might not be able to do anything about what you say online, but someone looking to hire you might be interested, and that could come back to bite you.

  104. I real go with the freedom of speech thingy, but there should be moderation in all as well.

  105. No restriction on social media outside of work. 100% responsibility for what is said. Anyone can publish rants about work on their Facebook, but don’t be surprised if you have it thrown in your face the next day. The right to free speech (for Americans) does not limit hurt feelings and fallout.

  106. I understand the guidelines restricting usage in certain working environments and also stopping employees from sharing certain information about the company, but should comments made about colleagues (not of a higher ranking) online outside of the workplace on a personal computer be reason for disciplinary action inside the workplace? Does this violate freedom of speech? I was questioned over a Tweet yesterday and my name nor location is mentioned anywhere on my page yet the company used “filters” to find my tweet and tracked me down. Curious as to whether you know how they do this and whether protecting and encrypting Twitter would prevent it?

  107. Tyler Masterson October 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I recently recieved a “discipinary notice” from Sheetz corporation in Allentown, PA for commenting that a huge corporation such as them does not care about one customer and only cares about the masses. After talking to my district manager about it he refused to release a copy of said comments to me without expressed permission from employee relations. I believe this violates freedom of speech and my right to know what all was said.(Said comments were swiftly deleted from facebook so I cannot see them, only Sheetz can) What do you all think I should do? Thank you in advance

  108. Hi gfsnell3,

    I am doing an essay on social media and should businesses be allowed to intervene in their employees personal lives. I was wondering if you would mind answering a couple questions about the issue, I feel you would have great responses due to your knowledge in the field. I can e-mail you the questions or post them on here. Let me know! Thanks

  109. Even if it were legal to censor a person’s thoughts and comments on thier private time- it would not change the facts of the matter. Bully’s and horrible management are an epidimic! If you have a post by an employee about a manager or anyone else for that matter that there are others who are also emlpoyees are in agreement with it should be used as a helpful tool by upper management to spot the “REAL ISSUES” which when you have a group of unhappy people it is always because of poor management !

  110. Yes, I think it just a waste of time.

  111. I honestly, believe that people should never, exploited, expose or discuss job related issues online in public-networking. And, If you really think about this…, Facebook is for businesses` not discuss poor ethical problems, financial issues, whom is more favor in the job, work, employment workforce! There is an old saying never shoot yourself in the foot, because this will come back and haunt you. Some companies will send-out “[RED-FLAG]”on your conduct, convey and/or composure assessments.

    …this is my opinion not facts. But on the other hand, how will you feel if you own a company, and one of your workers exploit your business very wrongfully doing……. WOM [Word-of-Mouth]…poor networking, communicating and collaborating in unethical habits!!!

    Rick ~

  112. I use a program called cronos by softwarex4. It allows me to set time periods when facebook is permitted on the internet and therefore the staff are happier that they can use it, althrough not at a huge cost to the company. For instance, i allow facebook to be used between 12 and 1 as that is the lunch break for the staff. This way if they chose to stay in the office, they can use the company PC’s and internet to go on their social networking sites. This keeps the staff happy and keeps the company from paying a lot in wages to staff that arent working. if anyone is interested…

  113. Freedom of speech baby! Nuf Said! If I’m not getting paid, you don’t own me! Employers need to learn this basic idea. Not on your property, not putting money in my paycheck. Employers think they own you!

  114. Hi everyone i am one that has been kicked out of school and now having to pay $17,000 because i wrote something on face book about a teacher that bulled me i never said a name nor a schools name on my face book and they took my 1st amendment right away from me ( Freedom of speech) its agents the law what they did to me but they still did it! and got away with it. i am a single mother and was going to be finished with school in less then 3 months i am now trying to find a lawyer to help me because i know what they did was agents the law this does not just happen at jobs it happens with schools as well companies. companies should not be aloud to do this to anyone (take there first amendment right away from them or to any one) for those that have there own business and say that there employes should not be aloud to say things about your company and your managers etc.. have you ever thought that the person that said it was not lying about your employes and the people that you hired what about when managers go on power trips and treat the employes like crap just because they don’t like them (use your brain ) people don’t just respond like that for no parent reason.

  115. What’s Going down i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I
    have found It absolutely helpful and it has helped me out loads.
    I’m hoping to give a contribution & assist other customers like its helped me. Good job.

  116. I have been recently dismissed from work for making general comments about work which targetted no individual or made any specific allegations of harrassment or bullying by management on a site visible from my Facebook account. Yes, I was an idiot to make them online and was perfectly willing to accept a warning and be censured accordingly. But summary dismissal for gross misconduct was disproportionate penalty given the nature of the offence. Both I and my former employer acted without due thought or sensitivity.

  117. Sorry to hear that. Are you fighting the dismissal?

  118. You can definitely see your expertise within the work you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

  119. Today, it is also possible to listen to the phone calls of another person.

    The only problem faced by people using GSM cell phone tracking method is that they should be fast
    enough to scan the area covered by the cell phone tower lest the person carrying the cell phone moves into another area.
    These devices are being used by many people today in their offices and homes.

  120. social media at workplace is just waste of the time and if you are addicted to it just chill and use it in your break eg..lunch break etc

  121. Interesting, I wasn’t aware there were that many corporate butt kissers out there. Can’t stand people like that, and oddly, it’s probably those jerks who are in fact responsible for most of the negative comments from other employees.

    Don’t act like a jerk employer, you won’t get treated like one.

  122. I complained on FB re. Treatment at work. Didnt mention place, names, initials, and removed the post in less than 6 hrs. I am worried about ramifications. I had a similar incident 2 yrs ago where I did give initials.
    the fact that I vented with noting person or place does that mean my employer has no grounds to condemn?

  123. I mean without giving names, places, or initials

  124. It should be severly limited in violation of HIPAA rights or FERPA rights. However, companies do have a right to trade secrets. How they treat their employees is not a trade secrets. However, employees should be aware that the tirades can be used against them, for instance, if they bring a workers’ compensation suit. Even if their case is very good, lawyers will attempt tobuse it against them

  125. I don’t even know how I ended up right here, however I
    thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a
    famous blogger when you aren’t already. Cheers!


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