I usually tell my clients to remember three things about social media – it is public, it is permanent, and it is powerful. Public because I don’t care what privacy settings you put, what you don’t want to get out will. It is like putting something on a big billboard. Better not to post then post and regret. Permanent because the way the Internet and the technology work, postings are carried by one server to another, backing up every step of the way. Add to that the tagging our family and friends do to our photos, etc. and you can never fully go back and delete the past. Powerful because social media activity has consequences – some positive benefits, such as client referrals, speaking opportunities, etc. – but also negative ones – like losing a job. This post will go over some ways the last can happen. I am going to focus on categories and legal descriptions, but for colorful examples full of details I invite you to Google the title of this article. Sad, sad, sad.
Violation of Company’s Social Media Policy
More and more companies (including law firms) are developing and implementing social media policies to let employees know what the company’s expectations are in terms of employee online activity and to pay out some potential discipline concerns and disciplinary actions that the company may take because of violations to the policy. So first things first – read your company’s policy if it has one. Note: It may be called guidelines instead of policy. But if they have them, read them. If they give training on the policy – take it. It is their responsibility to let you know if they have it but your responsibility to read and understand it. If you don’t, then ask questions.
Some ways you can be fired because of violating the company’s social media policy include:
Breaching Duty of Confidentiality – don’t post trade secrets, information about your company’s clients or customers, or future plans the company may have for a launch, etc. Most companies, especially law firms, will have a confidentiality policy, which also applies to the online world. Can’t say it in person, can’t say it online.
Being on Social Media When You are Supposed to be doing your job – this is a productivity issue – they are paying you to work not to be on Facebook, unless you are their social media director. It is understandable you may be on during a break – but online sessions are timed and can be monitored if done on company equipment.
Unprofessional Behavior – this could be behavior online or behavior done offline that is capture (like in a photo) and posted online. Don’t make fun of clients. Be careful of confusing your personal account and your business account. Don’t urinate outside someone’s house, especially when they have security cameras.
Even though discrimination and harassment is usually addressed in the company’s social media policy and/or a separate company policy I think it warrants its own section. These can have legal consequences (i.e. civil suit) as well as the loss of a job. When it comes to posting online, what you see is what it is literally. It is very difficult to express sarcasm, humor, or subtlety online. We try with emoticons, etc. but people don’t always get the joke. Or appreciate it. Racial slurs, gender slurs, over the top declarations made at the expense of marginalized or minority groups – such as referring to sexual orientation – are all no-nos and can lead to a pink slip. We all have to work together and these kinds of activities create a hostile work environment that can lead to lawsuits and a lot of financial pain.
Illegal & Criminal Conduct
So there are many other activities that fall directly within the criminal sphere. Some of these may be addressed in a company’s social media policy, some are just all put together in a catchall category of prohibiting “other illegal activities.
Defamation – making a false statement about one person (it would be disparaging for a product or service) to a third person that will affect their livelihood is a civil cause of action – no jail time, but can be quite expensive. Be careful what you say and how you phrase it, especially if it is not true. If you are not sure it is not true better not to say anything at all.
Cyber-stalking a colleague – when does cyber-bullying become cyber-stalking or vice a versa? Either way, more and more states are passing workplace anti-bullying legislation. It doesn’t happen just on the playground anymore.
Pretending to be someone else – you may have heard of astroturfing or twitterjacking – the idea of taking someone else’s identity and pretending to be them online. These are illegal and companies cannot pretend to be their employees either.
Lying about your experience online – the FTC is taking a very close look at our social media profiles (like on LinkedIn) to make sure the information we post about ourselves is accurate. Since so many people use those profiles to make hiring decisions, untruths are being designating as false advertising by the FTC and can carry hefty fines and penalties, as well as embarrassment fro the company that did hire you, which will promptly fire you because you probably signed on the application that all your information was truthful.
Putting Clients/Coworkers in danger – whether health, safety, or security (data breach). We have a responsibility not to do anything that may cause harm to our clients and/or co-workers. Be carful not to disclose personally identifiable information (ex. residential address) or schedule and location details of that person’s whereabouts (such as posting “have a great vacation in Spain for the next 2 weeks). May not sound like a problem, but it can be an alert for certain not-well-meaning individuals of an opportunity to do harm. And once it gets traced back to you post, it can lead to your job lost.
Hope you enjoyed this little tour of the landscape of social media job lost land mines. As always, be careful what you post. And sometimes it is better not to post at all.