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I'm just a girl in the world.. that kind of likes to write. Mom of 2 teen girls & work as Talent Attraction & Marketing professional. Oh, & I'm addicted to my phone, Social Media, HR/Talent Marketing & Caffeine... you can learn more about me at www.linkedin.com/in/theonecrystal

Facebook Got Me Fired… Debunking 3 SoMe Employment Myths

Social Media & Employment… How’s it still ‘All the Rage?’ Because we’re not addressing it, people.

In the last few weeks, I’ve read a number of news articles and blogs talking about “how [someone] was fired for Facebook.”  I’m not going to lie, it’s somewhat surprising that this is actually news to anyone.  Social Media?  Is not new… but, I guess the continual growth of end-users makes it new for someone and many companies, are still grappling with how to deal with it.  Care to take a guess at how many companies globally do not have a social media policy in place for their workforce?  No?  It’s actually a shocking 85%.  That’s shocking when you link that stat to these:

  • 22% of Fortune 500 companies have an active, public-facing blog
  • Over 30% of businesses globally utilize social media in their marketing
  • Approximately 45% of companies actually use social media to help screen hires
  • Approximately 57.5% of the population with internet access (approx. 1 out of every 13 people on the planet) have a social media profile
  • 93% of B2B Marketers are engaged in some form of social media marketing
  • As of April 2011, there are more social networking site accounts than there are people on the planet (over 10 Billion).

Social Media is a business reality.  Your company is using social to make money; and your employees are using it to ‘make merry.’  It’s entertainment, it’s an online scrapbook, it’s a way to connect with friends, family, co-workers.  It’s also?  The world’s biggest bathroom wall & venting couch.  As an HR & Talent Marketing/Acquisition professional; I’ve come at the business issues surrounding social from pretty much every angle.  I’ve used it to attract and screen talent; I’ve written Corporate Social Media Usage & Conduct Policy for multiple companies, and I’ve dealt with the fallout when said policy wasn’t observed by employees under my management purview.  Let me tell you, even when you have a clearly defined Social Media policy; firing someone for breaking it can still be somewhat nebulously received by the offending employee.  It’s hard for them to grasp why it matters if they’re “Just talking to their ‘friends.’”  In Executive Search, I’ve worked with Managers looking to replace once-valued employees when they came to realize they couldn’t get over seeing “My Boss is a total A$*hat for making me work this weekend when I wanted to watch the ball game!” after said offending employee posted it on their page… forgetting the boss was their friend & could see it.  Oops.  Yes, social media IS a business reality and it’s here to stay; and both sides of the Company fence need to get better at dealing with it.

Leadership, we need to set boundaries on what is acceptable for our employees to engage in online as representatives of our Company & Brand.  Fellow employees, we need to understand that there are limits to what we can say, do, & show in good taste before we become more of a detriment than benefit to our Company… because if there’s ANY hint ANYWHERE that we work for a specific Company?  Whatever we put online will reflect & have the potential to affect the brands we serve.  Without further ado, let’s see if we can’t clear up some confusion on a few points surrounding employment & social media:

1. MYTH?  Bad-Mouthing the COMPANY is bad; individuals are fair game, though.

You’d think this would be a ‘no-brainer,’ right? Bad mouthing a representative of a Company IS bad-mouthing the Company.  Evidently, though, it’s still somewhat confusing for several employees out there.  “People have talked smack about their work for years,” one offending employee told me in 2009 when I had to counsel her regarding online harassment after her team lead complained she was making rude remarks about him on Facebook.  “So-and-so was griping about her boss the other day in the bathroom; are you writing her up, too??”  I explained to her that evidently, no one heard so-and-so; but people had read her remarks.  When you have a conversation with someone; it’s between you and whomever is in earshot.  Once you post something online?  It pretty much lives forever.. in cache, on hard drives, in pictures, printed out… the internet is not Vegas people.  What’s said between 2 people on a FB wall doesn’t necessarily stay there.

2.  MYTH?  There is no negative behavior that is “safe” for an employee to engage in.

Yes and No.  The reality is that any behavior that a Manager is aware of that is perceived as negative has the ability to adversely impact your employment.  That negative impact Could result in being fired; but whether it directly results in the decision to terminate depends on the situation and whether or not “concerted activity” applies.  What’s that?  “Concerted Activity” refers to the terms/conditions of work and is a legal principle under the subject freedom of association; and is meant to help protect employees from the fear of employer retaliation.  If it’s singular – just one person talking smack – then yes, depending on what’s said & if it violates company policy, you could be fired.  However, if you make a bad comment about your boss or company & a bunch of other employees of the same company jump in?  ‘Concerted activity’ applies & it becomes a protected event that you can’t be disciplined for; with some notable exceptions.  The first is a matter of access – if your boss is your online buddy?  Not protected.  However, if they gained access through the undue stress if the comments are malicious or defamatory; there is ultimately legal protection from discipline for that… but it’s on the other side of a possibly long, probably expensive, court case.

3.  MYTH?  “As long as I’m not badmouthing the company or breaking the law; employers don’t have the right to judge me by my page… & certainly not fire me for it.”

Again, Yes & No.  While employers can not terminate your employment for anything found on your social media page that is connected to a Title VII right or the inalienable truths we hold to be self-evident; there’s two things to consider:

1.  Employers are people, too.  Whether you like it or not; people form perceptions based off the information that you put out there – perceptions can affect long-term opinions, which can affect your long-term employment.  If you’ve posted pictures every night out partying like it’s 1999 and are sluggish in the office every day… chances are?  You’re going to miss out on opportunities you might have wanted to be a part of; if you’re not outright ultimately replaced.  And no, most savvy employers will not tell you it’s because of what they saw on FB.  But, it could be.  #Besmart

2.  If you tell your employer you’re sick, have a dead family member to bury, or some other such excuse?  Don’t check into the local mall on Foursquare or post pictures of yourself at a party.  THAT?  Can absolutely get you fired… and maybe should!  Just because it’s your “personal page” doesn’t mean if you get caught in an ethics violation you’re safe from disciplinary action.

At the end of the day?  Employees?? BE SMART.  A lot of this – all of this – can be avoided by leaving your grievances with work OFF your social media pages & keeping your nose clean.  Employers?  Do your employees a favor and invest half the time in them that you’re investing in social media to make you money.  DRAFT A SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY for your employees and then take the time to make sure they understand the expectations associated with it.  Then maybe we’ll stop reading headlines & internet articles on how Facebook got someone else fired.. again.

5 Comments on “Facebook Got Me Fired… Debunking 3 SoMe Employment Myths”

  1. Belinda Smith 09/01/2011 at 8:09 am #

    I think employers should be smart and develop their own policies as well as employees “protecting” themselves. If it is laid out in a policy that you can’t do these specific things on your social media sites, then they have an actual call to action when it is violated and it is clear to employees what is ok and what is not ok. Even if it seems intuitive, laying it out is easier for everyone.

    I’m not all that sure why employers are dragging their feet on this subject. When I was an undergraduate, my sorority developed a social media policy as soon as its members and potential members began using social media sites regularly. If your employees use these sites and as an organization, you have certain expectations, make them clear to employees to avoid all of these issues!

    As always, good post, Crystal!

  2. Dave Ryan (@DaveTheHRCzar) 09/01/2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I am not sure that all Companies need a policy. I like to think it should just be an extension of existing policies with “reasonableness” applied. I guess not everyone gets that concept.

    • TheOneCrystal 09/01/2011 at 8:46 pm #

      I’m not sure the policy need be a “stand-alone;” but there are idiosyncrasies associated w/ Social Media that pose potential business issues that, if not entirely new, are different enough to warrant specific attention. Social Media amplifies a single voice in a way most companies (& people, frankly) have never had to deal w/ before. BUT, it’s been around long enough that more than 15% of businesses should have addressed it.

      How would you define “reasonableness,” though? Vagueness & “room for interpretation” is not usually fab on the other side of the employment relationship. While not warm, fuzzy feeling; policies should be clear-cut, evenly applied & not subjective, no?

  3. Lyn H (@designtwit) 09/01/2011 at 8:53 pm #

    Dave, I think there is a disconnect with technology for people when it comes to perceiving boundaries. While it might seem so basic not to friend the defendant on Facebook when you are on a jury – Duh! (I read THAT happened this week)! As culture shifts to the online social norm, certain boundaries will be second-nature and common sense. But, spelling it out in a policy is not a bad thing. I am starting to see online behavior as an educational segment with my kids at school. Our PTO has had seminars. I tweeted one last year because I was pleasantly surprised the balance of the program between online dangers and behavior as well as the power of the tech as a necessary tool to engage students. Crystal I LOVE this post! It is ALL about education. You have a great outline! And I think it should be HR’s job to take the leadership role and guide business into socializing their workforce and brand.

    • Anitra 09/21/2011 at 6:29 pm #

      You have shed a ray of sunshine into the forum. Thanks!

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