Ask HR: Can Employees Be Disciplined for Their Social Media Posts?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP July 29, 2022
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Ask HR: Can Employees Be Disciplined for Their Social Media Posts?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

 

I recently saw a personal social media post from one of our new employees that referred to our company and featured some inappropriate content. While the content was not disparaging, we don't want our company associated with what might be deemed offensive content. What's the best way to approach this situation? Maureen

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Social media is ingrained in virtually every facet of our culture and society. So I can guarantee you aren't the only person thinking about this. People should be cognizant of their social media presence and its impact on their personal and professional worlds. Posts aren't limited to a time clock. You are right to protect your company from being associated with offensive messaging.

While it is unfortunate that your employee posted inappropriate content regarding your company, this is a valuable, teachable moment for your new employee. Start by having a candid conversation. Never assume an employee understands or should understand what could go wrong with social media.  

Make it clear what the potential consequences can be. Once something is posted—good or bad—it lives on the Internet permanently for the world to see. And unfortunately, while good news travels fast, on the Internet, bad news travels faster and farther.

Walk the employee through your company's policy on social media, as applicable. Explain how important it is for companies to invest a considerable amount of time and money in building their brand and how they are well within their rights to take whatever measures necessary to protect it and their bottom line from negative perception—even if it means termination.

It doesn't seem like this is the case here, but some posts on social media may be protected under the National Labor Relations Act, as what is considered "concerted activity." This would include criticism of working conditions, benefits, pay rates or even poor management.

However, this doesn't mean employees are to air their grievances online without consequence. They may be subject to disciplinary action based on company policy. I encourage you to check state regulations regarding off-duty conduct.

While social media is inescapable in our lives today, you are wise to direct your team to be responsible for how their social media presence can impact their livelihoods. Now might be a perfect time to reach out to your HR team to re-examine any social media policies or reinforce existing guidelines and expectations for staff. Share how positively representing the company's brand is in the best interest of all stakeholders and especially them as employees.

 

My assembly plant was recently closed permanently after being idle for several months, during which time my colleagues and I were furloughed. With the closing, we received notice of termination. Should my severance include any PTO accrued during my furlough? Delia

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I'm sorry to hear you and your co-workers were terminated. I hope you find a new position to suit your interests.

In many instances, paid-time-off (PTO) policies aren't just regulated by the employer—they're actually prescribed by state law. Some states require vacation and PTO to be paid out after an employee's departure, whereas states without laws surrounding PTO leave the payout policy up to the employer.

I encourage you to do some digging here. If you are uncertain about your employer's PTO payout policy, review the employee handbook issued at your hiring. For clarification, speak with the HR representative at your former company—they will be able to fill in the gaps about any applicable payout.

You should also have access to a contact in HR who should be able to answer any questions about your departure. If your state does happen to require PTO to be paid out in full and your employer hasn't complied, contact your state department of labor for assistance or next steps.

Now, if your state does not mandate PTO payout at departure, the employer has the discretion to pay PTO or not. So make sure you understand which policy applies to your situation. 

Best of luck!

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