First Amendment -- Caution
Most Americans hold the First Amendment right to free speech as a sacred freedom of expression allowing unbridled private conversation and correspondence. The freedom does give Americans broad liberties to speech but important limitations do exist. Part of the responsibility of every citizen is to know and follow these limits to free speech.
Bruce Barry, CNN reporter, says, "In fact, though, firing a worker for off-the-job speech that unsettles an employer is pretty routine, and for the most part very legal. The First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights protect people from infringements on their liberties by acts of government, not from the oppressive acts of nongovernmental actors such as private-sector employers." (Bruce Barry, "Facebook, Freedom and Thin-skinned Bosses," CNN, November 11 2010)
The labor law concept of "employment at will" makes it possible to fire someone without due process for just about anything short of discrimination. These two realities combine to make the American workplace a location where free expression has scarcely more moral credibility than employee theft.
The popularity and convenience of online networks and social media allow employees to engage in instantaneous, personal correspondence. But, this use of the Internet presents disgruntled bosses with a relatively new area of opportunity for punishing employees who use what they may consider to be essentially harmless extracurricular speech. Personal expression on the Internet may meet disapproval from employers and create very touchy, job-threatening situations for employees.
Here are several examples of problems that originated on Facebook:
Gloria Gadsden, an associate professor of sociology at Pennsylvania’s East Stroudsburg University, enjoyed cracking wise on her Facebook account. In January she wrote, “Does anyone know where I can find a very discreet hit man? Yes, it’s been that kind of day.” In February: “Had a good day today. DIDN’T want to kill even one student.” Gadsden’s University, made aware of the posts, found reason to be alarmed given the tragic events at colleges in recent years. The school put Gadsden on indefinite paid leave that lasted a month before she was allowed to return in late March. (Dan Berrett, "ESU Professor Suspended For Comments Made On Facebook Page," Pocono Record, February 26 2010)
A Nebraska prison guard allegedly bragged on Facebook in February about smashing an inmate’s face to the ground. Soon thereafter, two more Nebraska prison guards jumped in to voice their support. The state was decidedly unimpressed. All three guards lost their jobs in March. (Christopher Steiner and Helen Coster, Forbes, 2010)
Ashley Payne, a teacher at Apalachee High in Winder, Ga., posted some off-color language along with photos of herself traveling, and drinking, throughout Europe. That’s not exactly the kind of example the school principal thought she should be setting, and asked Payne to resign. Payne later sued the school district; the suit is pending. ("Former Teacher Sues For Being Fired for Facebook Pics," www.wsbtv.com/news, November 11, 2009)
Whether in the virtual world, or in the real world, these two old adages apply:
- "If don't have something nice to say about somebody, then don’t say it."
- “The better part of valor is discretion.” – Shakespeare
Good Information For Social Networking
Thanks to Diane Walker (DC Careers Examiner) and open.salon.com for some great information about potential risks for employees. For those engaged in online networks and social media, these considerations should be valued:
1. Do not share confidential company information.
2. Do not post and/or share “suggestive” pictures of yourself or coworkers on a Facebook page.Click onto the "Photos" tab. This will show everything which someone's tagged with your name. It's worth going through every single one, and untagging it if it's not something you want to be associated with.
a. Photos showing you drunk/stoned/comatose,
b. Photos showing "unsuitable" friends,
c. Photos on which someone's put a really questionable caption about you,
d. Photos containing evidence of illegal or semi-illegal activity
3. Do not share confidential personal information. To protect company interests (and for some, just plain nosy) supervisors will spend time looking up their employee's social networking pages.
4. Do not surf even if your employer provides Internet access. While it may be tempting, people should not take advantage. Personal Internet surfing should be confined to lunch and breaks.
5. Do not use poor communication skills (including bad language) online or inaccurate qualifications: potential employers may check sites looking for these.
6. Do not bad mouth present or former employees.
7. Do not run down colleagues.
8. Do not post membership to silly, profane or potentially bigoted (racist/sexist/etc.) group memberships.
9. Do not make posted quotations that are lewd jokes or unflattering comments.
10. Do not continually make typos and spelling errors that potential employers may view.
Top Ten Turn-offs on Social Networking Websites
Ali Hale ("Make Sure Your Facebook Profile Doesn't Lose You a Job," www.dumblittleman.com, February 24 2009) claims these are the top ten turn-offs for employers on social networking websites:
Top ten turn-offs for employers on social networking websites
1. References to drug abuse
2. Extremist / intolerant views, including racism, sexism
3. Criminal activity
4. Evidence of excessive alcohol consumption
5. Inappropriate pictures, including nudity
6. Foul language
7. Links to unsuitable websites
8. Lewd jokes
9. Silly email addresses
10. Membership of pointless / silly groups