Rights? You don't have many when it comes to getting fired for Facebook
Trash your workplace in a status update and you might throw out something else — your job.
With bosses keeping a closer eye on your social-networking life, venting employees are learning the hard way their paychecks don’t come with First Amendment rights.
“Everyone thinks, ‘I’m in America. There’s freedom of speech,’ but that’s just when the government is involved,” said Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute. “When it’s private sector, you’ve got no rights at all. If you vent a little bit about your boss, you’re toast.”
In a high-profile case last month, a Connecticut woman was ousted in part for badmouthing her boss on Facebook as a “17,” code for a psych patient.
Dawnmarie Souza is hardly the first to be digitally busted. A study last year by Internet security firm Proofpoint showed 8 percent of large companies have canned an employee for social-media-related activities, and experts predict that number has risen dramatically this year.
“The reality is that most employees have a larger potential voice than ever before because of social media,” said New York-based social media consultant Jason Keath. “A lot of companies want to avoid a PR crisis caused by one employee.”
So much so that companies are increasingly adopting social-media policies warning their workers to use common sense, Keath said.
"HR pros are realizing that social media isn't a fad, that it's not going away," said human resources consultant Sharlyn Lauby, author of "HR Bartender." "They're looking at policies and procedures and acting accordingly."
Lauby encouraged companies to hold meetings and training sessions for employees on safe use of Facebook and Twitter.
In a twist that could benefit tech-savvy employees, the National Labor Relations Board is defending Souza in the Connecticut case, alleging she was illegally fired. A hearing is scheduled for January.
But don’t blog ill will toward your supervisors just yet.
“The legal aspect is still being hashed out,” said employment lawyer Tyson B. Snow. “There’s a lot of really, really gray area [because] the technology is so young.”
For now, you can be fired for any reason in “employment-at-will” states such as New York unless your ousting violates federal discrimination laws, Snow said.
Bronx resident Christopher Whitaker, whose cousin was fired because of a Facebook post complaining about his job, urged New Yorkers not to be so naïve.
“They forget that what they write stays out there forever,” said Whitaker, 40. “Find a confidante and talk offline, because in this economy, you better be careful of losing your job.”
Getting “Facebook fired” has become so common, it’s now a verb on urbandictionary.com. Here are notable examples:
* October: Three NYC public high school teachers were busted for having inappropriate communications with students on Facebook and got canned.
* September: A woman in the group “Fired by Facebook” said she was ousted as a McDonald’s manager for writing “F--- them nuggets” on a friend’s wall.
* March 2009: A newly hired employee on Twitter wrote “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work,” promoter her would-be boss to respond, “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”
* March 2009: A Philadelphia Eagles stadium employee was fired for using Facebook to vent his frustration at losing a popular teammate in a trade. “Dam Eagles R Retarded!!” he wrote.