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Can Social Media Get You Fired?

A scene from 'In the Clutches of the Gang', a Keystone Cops silent comedy directed by George Nichols and Mack Sennett. Left to right : Ford Sterling (on phone), Edgar Kennedy, George Jeskey, Al St John, Hank Mann, Rube Miller, and Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle (1887 - 1933).   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There’s been much talk in the news recently about people who have been fired from their jobs – or at least landed in serious trouble – based on social media activity. Facebook profiles are often looked at now during the interview and background phase of hiring, and everyone seems to have an opinion as to whether or not your social media activity can, in fact, get you fired.

While each profession and industry is different and plays by different rules, the social media factor has a unique impact on the financial and accounting fields. But in your quest for an answer to the looming question, you might have found that obtaining that answer is rather difficult.

Questions of fairness have been raised, complaints and lawsuits from employees have been seen, and questions of legality itself have been discussed. But what hasn’t been stated is a definitive yes or no answer regarding whether or not you can be fired based on what your social media accounts show. Below is a brief discussion of some of the main issues and points within this topic, and then, at last, a definitive answer.

What Does Social Media Have to Do With Work?

One point that is continually raised is how your social media activity could possibly have anything to do with work. After all, this is your personal life, right? What does your employer have to do with what happens off the clock? These questions are reasonable, and they seem fair. But there’s another issue that isn’t being addressed.

Much of the time, what people do off the clock actually does impact their work life. For instance, if someone has a bit of a drinking problem, they may often come into work buzzed or suffering from the after-effects of the night before. Whether or not this is tolerated in the workplace, if you’re dealing with important facts and figures, handling other people’s finances, and meeting with clients who are putting their money in your hands, that’s not the best situation. If the initial impression doesn’t drive them away, what happens if that person makes a big mistake on their account? Employers have to worry, to some extent, about what their employees do off the clock, because it can directly impact their bottom line.

So, the short answer to this sub-question, is that to some extent, your employer has a right to be concerned about certain things you do off the clock. Who you’re dating is none of his business, but what you do that could impact your work performance is.

Privacy Invasion?

Another sub-question that often arises from the larger issue of whether or not your boss should be able to use what’s on your social media account as a reason to fire you is that of privacy. Many people feel that it’s an invasion of privacy for their boss to use something they did in their private life as a reason to fire them from their job.

But this involves a larger legal issue, which is usually called “reasonable expectation of privacy”. In other words, if you tried to tell a court of law that your privacy rights were violated because your employer looked at your Facebook account, didn’t like what he saw, and fired you, the court would likely be asked to determine whether or not you have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you put something online.

The short answer? No. When you have a public profile like Twitter or Facebook and you post pictures that you know could cause your boss to think twice about keeping you as an employee, you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Sure you did those things in your private life, but you put it on a public profile. At that point, all bets are off.

Now if you have a private profile and your boss hacked into your account, then yes, your privacy was violated. But what’s public online is public for all, and the best thing you can do is watch what you say and do if it will adversely affect your job.

The Main Answer

So, does your employer have a right to use what you put on social media to fire you? It does depend on a situation-by-situation basis, but in short, yes, he or she does have that right.

Now, if you’re tweeting on Twitter about how much you can’t stand a certain celebrity, and your boss happens to love that celebrity and fires you, you have a wrongful termination case. But, if you’re on Twitter bashing a client or talking about things that undermine the company, represent it poorly, or you do things that cause you to do a poor job at work, then your boss has every right to fire you for it. Whether or not people will think it’s fair is another issue, but when it comes down to basic legality, under certain circumstances, yes, you can be fired for what’s on your account, so use caution and make your profile private if you’re concerned about it.

Burchard & Associates provides a personal approach to accounting and tax recruitment for St. Louis and beyond. We are ready to listen to YOU.

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