Have you ever been about to smash that “tweet” button, but the fear of being called to HR stayed your hand? It’s a reasonable fear: It may seem unfair that your bosses should be able to control how you present yourself and what you do when you’re engaging in non-work activities, but to a degree, they can. In fact, the consequences for a given post could even eclipse chastisement — you could be fired. Of course, that only happens in very specific cases, and may not happen at all, but it’s worth knowing your rights before you pop off next on TikTok.
When can you get reprimanded at work for a social media post?
The first thing you need to know about what kind of professional trouble you can get into because of your social media posts is that this is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment protects your right to say whatever you want, but it doesn’t protect you from consequences, either doled out by personal connections or your private employer. Most states are “at-will” states, which means employees can quit a job whenever they want and for whatever reason — and employers can fire them whenever they want and for whatever reason, too. Unless you have a written contract stating the exact conditions under which your employment relationship can end, you should be careful, not just online, but in general.
First things first: You can get in trouble for posts that violate your company’s social media policy. You probably signed some kind of acknowledgement of the policy at some point, but whether you did or didn’t review it, make sure to do so now. Contact your human resources representative to get the most up-to-date copy of the policy. This is especially important if you represent or even mention your company on your social profiles, or if your social media use is integral to your job duties and you use your accounts to perform work tasks.
- Discriminatory, bigoted, or racist posts
- Misleading posts about your company’s product or that are critical of your working environment
- Posts containing confidential or proprietary information
- Negative comments about your customers or clients
- Anything that shows you lied to your employer (so, if you call in “sick” to attend an afternoon ballgame, don’t post a photo of yourself at the ballgame)
- Posts showing illegal activity
Jackson Spencer also pointed to “racy posts” as something that could get you in trouble at work. That is more subjective than, say, posting yourself drinking underage or making fun of a client in a tweet, but if you’re worried an outfit or scene is too “racy,” consider just not uploading it. (It’s unlikely a bikini pic is actually going to get you terminated, but that depends entirely on your company, which probably technically does have the right to ax you.)
What can’t you get fired for posting?
There are some things you are legally allowed to post, so don’t be too worried about digital Big Brother. Most importantly, even in at-will states, you can’t be fired for a “protected class characteristic,” like race, colour, sex, religion, age, or disability. If you could legally prove one of these is the underlying cause of your termination, you can sue.
Other things you can’t get fired for posting are these:
- Genuine, factual criticisms of working conditions and policies (as long as it’s clear you’re doing so to raise awareness and make a change, preferably along with other colleagues)
- Comments in support of your union or in support of unionizing
Finally, companies do tend to be slightly more concerned with posts you make during work hours than they are with the ones you make when you’re off the clock. That doesn’t mean you get a free pass to let your hottest takes and pics fly at 5:01 p.m., but it does mean you have some wiggle room when you’re not on company time, provided you’re not breaking any of the major rules we went over above.
Remember that while there are things you can’t get fired for, there are also posts you may not get hired over. What passes for acceptable social media content for your current boss may not please your next potential employer. The extent to which you’d even want to work for a place that polices your online accounts that hard is up to you, but for the most part, try to stick with the guidelines above to avoid preemptively pissing off any hiring managers. Don’t talk shit about your employer or your customers, don’t post yourself doing illegal activities, and don’t be offensive.