You are around your coworkers for most of the day, every day. So it can only be expected that they’ll get on your nerves from time to time. But be careful what you say if you ever feel the need to vent your frustration, ’cause it just might land you in trouble. (And by “trouble” we mean the unemployment line.)
Last month, a woman in Connecticut had had it with her boss, so she logged on to Facebook and got it off her chest. The trouble came when her boss got hold of her comments, and she was ultimately handed a pink slip.
The woman’s Facebook rant stemmed from a labor dispute she was having at work, and according to the National Labor Relations Act, you can’t fire an employee who is exercising their right to openly discuss work and work-related conditions—even if it does include calling your boss a few unflattering names. The Connecticut woman is now suing the company.
So does this mean that we have carte blanche to air our professional grievances and badmouth our bosses and coworkers online without fear of losing our jobs? Not so fast.
Black Enterprise reached out to Ruthie White, a partner at Meyer White law firm in Houston, to get some clarity on the issue. White handles corporate cases and used to be a human resources manager. She explained that, generally, an employer can fire you for any or no reason unless there is a law that says they can’t—a congressional or constitutional law, a labor union law, or the policy of a private company.
There are congressional and constitutional laws that protect an employee’s right to discuss work conditions and from being discriminated against when it comes to race, gender, religion and more. But even if you’re not violating any of these types of laws—let’s say you go online and rail against all the short people you have to work with—you may still be violating a corporate policy or code of conduct, which could lead to your being fired. And in the age of social media, more and more companies are adopting electronic communications or social media policies, which state very explicitly what you cannot do and say—as it relates to your employment—online. If you violate this policy in any way, you can be fired.
But what if you work for a company that doesn’t have this kind of policy? Can you still be fired for language and behavior that your company deems inappropriate and/or distasteful? Short answer: Yes.
And although claiming your First Amendment rights sounds like a get-out-of-trouble-free route to take, it doesn’t apply in this case. Our right to free speech is overruled by the operational policies of the company we work for.
So the next time you log on to go off, think twice about who might see what you’ve written, and what might happen when they do.
Read more about issues at the workplace…
- How to deal with the boss from hell
- Your co-workers are not your friends. Here’s why.
- How sex plays out in the workplace