The number of adults in the United States with an active social media presence has grown steadily over the last few years. In 2008, approximately 24% of the population used social media while today at least 81% of the population utilizes social media. As the number of people who use social media daily grows, more employees are finding themselves in the unique position of having their professional lives impacted by their personal online activities. Stories involving adults who lost their jobs because of things they posted online are reported on a regular basis, but few realize that there are times when an employer cannot fire you for social media activity. Understanding your rights as an employee is vital if social media leads to the termination of your employment.
Understanding Freedom of Speech
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech of all citizens. This freedom does not apply to private employers meaning that an employee who is disciplined or terminated for his or her words or actions on social media cannot always claim first amendment protection. An employee who uses a work-related account to post complaints about a coworker or make obscene or threatening comments about a peer often crosses a line that can cost him or her employment. However, private employers are required to respect protected concerted activity that occurs when employees talk amongst themselves about management, working conditions, etc. regardless of whether or not they are in a union.
An employee, even one who is posting messages publicly on social media, does have a right to privacy when off duty. What an employee writes or publishes online outside of working hours is not immediate grounds for termination. The only exception to this rule is when online activities are not lawful. This means that as long as you are engaging in legal activities on your own personal time, your employer cannot automatically terminate you if they disagree with or dislike what was posted.
Employees are protected from retaliatory termination and that includes terminations that are in retaliation for something what was posted on social media. Political posts, messages, and activities are included in this protection preventing a Colorado employer from terminating an employee in retaliation for a political stance or view. Additionally, an employer cannot use social media activity as an excuse to terminate an employee who has previously reported harassment, discrimination, or hazardous working conditions.
Get Legal Advice
Losing a job because of social media activity is both shocking and stressful. Fortunately, if you believe that your termination was retaliatory or goes against federal or state employment law, then it is possible to fight back. An employment attorney who specializes in wrongful termination can review your situation and help you determine if there is a legal recourse available to you. The attorneys at HKM are able to represent employees in all industries and we have the resources to help you pursue a claim against any company. Contact our conveniently located Denver, Colorado location today at 303-991-3075 to schedule a consultation so that we can discuss your case.