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Experts say employees who offend people online risk losing their livelihoods
Using offensive, vulgar or violent language to express political opinions on social media accounts could not only get employees in trouble with their friends and family but also with their bosses.
Because what we post on the Internet can shape our personal and professional images, writing hurtful or obnoxious posts on Facebook or other social sites may not be a smart thing to do, experts tell
SHRM Online—especially when it comes to political opinions.
Consider the following:
HR Professionals Need to Know These Laws
Knowing the law is imperative, attorneys said.
In his blog
The Employer Handbook, attorney Eric Meyer, a frequent speaker at SHRM conferences, writes: "Private-sector employees have few, if any, protections for political speech. There is no federal law which specifically forbids retaliation against employees who talk politics. There may be some refuge in the National Labor Relations Act, which protects employees who discuss working conditions with one another. Plus, a few states and cities have laws protecting political speech."
However, "some states have laws protecting employees for being fired for legal off-duty activities. Those laws may protect employees who post on their own time," said Donna Ballman, an employee-side employment attorney and author of
Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed, or Sue the Bastards (Career Press, 2012).
In an interview with SHRM, Meyer said "most private-sector employers can have a rule banning political discussions at work. Although, I wish you luck enforcing that one.
"Plus, nothing protects hate-speech online. Political or not—even if intended as satire—an employee who offends reasonable people with his online speech risks losing his job."
So, are employers within their rights to fire employees if the employees say something hateful on Facebook or Twitter?
"Whether or not an employee should be terminated based on a comment on social media really depends on the severity and context with which the comment was made," said Brad Stultz, HR director at Totally Promotional, a consumer goods company based in Portland, Ind., in an interview with
"If the comment was directed at a specific gender, race, nationality or religious group, there might be justifiable cause for termination. In regard to political free speech, employers should have an iron-clad social media policy that outlines the types of statements acceptable when representing the company."
Something else to keep in mind: "As political discourse creeps further into our social and professional lives, we must be absolutely certain that our open discussions don't inadvertently coerce employees into articulating views they'd rather hold privately," Dan Finnigan, CEO of
Jobvite, told SHRM. "Just because you can assess a person's political standing by looking at their social profile doesn't mean they want to discuss it with you."
Stultz added that "all HR professionals should consistently review their social media policies to ensure they are compliant with the ever-changing regulations set forth by their local, state and federal governments."
Aliah D. Wright is the author of " A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites." (SHRM, 2013).
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