Social Postings Still Land Employees in Hot Water

Experts say having a policy, training are paramount

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright March 6, 2017
Social Postings Still Land Employees in Hot Water

It has become a regular occurrence: An employer fires or reprimands a worker over something shared on social media.

Where does HR fit into this—regulating what employees do on their own social media accounts and when?

Whether it's through a policy or training, HR professionals must explain to employees that their actions on social media may not just damage their own reputations but can also cause them to lose their jobs.

Social Distractions

Photos have emerged of an accountant, responsible for making sure celebrity presenters announced the correct Oscar winners, who was instead tweeting backstage at the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, moments before he caused a huge gaffe by handing the award presenter the wrong envelope, Variety magazine reports.

Warren Beatty and his co-presenter, Faye Dunaway, announced "La La Land" as the best picture winner instead of the film "Moonlight."

PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that the accountant will continue to work at the consultancy but not as an accountant for the Academy Awards.

Offensive Speech

As Fox News reported, "a former Hillary Clinton volunteer drew swift condemnation and lost his job after mocking [Carryn Owens] the widow of fallen Navy SEAL [Ryan Owens], who was honored by the president during his congressional address" Feb. 28.

Dan Grilo, whose Twitter profile (before he deleted it) said he worked as a volunteer for both former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, sent this tweet shortly after President Donald Trump's address to Congress earlier this week:


[SHRM members-only resource: How to Use Social Media for Applicant Screening]

In announcing his firing, Grilo's former employer, Liberty Advisor Group, called his tweet "offensive and inappropriate" and added that "although the message and subsequent apologies were sent from an individual's personal account, and bore no connection to his work with Liberty, his comments were inconsistent with the company's values and the unyielding respect it has for the members of our nation's Armed Forces. The individual who issued the tweet is no longer affiliated with Liberty."

In another recent case, former NFL player Fernando Bryant, who once played for the Detroit Lions, the New England Patriots, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, was fired from his new job as a football coach at a Christian school in Georgia after a photo of him and his wife holding a bottle of alcohol was found on his Instagram page.

Coaching on Good Judgment

Experts tell SHRM Online that it isn't smart for employees to write obnoxious posts on the Internet or to use social media. Those actions can damage an employee's professional reputation.

"Some states have laws protecting employees from being fired for legal off-duty activities. Those laws may protect employees who post on their own time," said Donna Ballman, an employment attorney who represents employees and is the author of Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed, or Sue the Bastards (Career Press, 2012).

However, "… 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," said Philadelphia-based attorney Eric Meyer, partner and chair of the Social Media Practice Group at Dilworth Paxson. He is also a frequent speaker at Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conferences. Even though there may be some refuge to be found in the National Labor Relations Act, which protects employees who discuss working conditions with one another, there is no protection for hate speech.

In general, employees need to be mindful of what they share online.

That's why having a social media policy—and training employees to follow it—is important. Even if your organization isn't using social media, a policy is still a necessity because employees need to know what expectations you have as an employer about their social media use even when they're off the clock.

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.




Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Are you a department of one?

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.