Can Social Media Cost Me My Job?

No doubt Social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, etc. – is a lot of fun. It opens windows to the world (literally and figuratively) that otherwise wouldn’t be visible to most people. Like it or not, anyone with a computer or smartphone can express an opinion, offer an idea, share a photo, or join a discussion on just about any topic, at any time, with anyone in the world with just the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger.

But before you execute that irreversible click or tap, do you consider the potentially vast audience – which might include your current or prospective employer – that might peer through the window you’ve opened into your personal and social life?

Estimates show that by 2017 over 2.3 billion people will be using the various social media networks.

Number of social network users worldwide from 2010 to 2018 (in billions)

Social networking is now the No. 1 online activity in the U.S. and only second to television in the amount of time Americans spend on any medium.

Social Networking Is the No. 1 Online Activity in the U.S.

So, it should come as no surprise that more employers are engaged in cyber snooping than ever before.

While most small and medium sized employers don’t have the time or resources to conduct extensive background checks, a quick internet search (who hasn’t typed a name into a Google search bar) provides a very convenient and cost effective way to gather information about prospective and current employees. And those searches typically point to social media profiles and posts.

A recent CareerBuilder survey found that 43% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates; another 12% who don’t, said they plan to start. 51% of employers who do such research said they deep-sixed a candidate because of something they posted on social media.

So, with freedom of expression being one of the cornerstones of American society, and the internet being the infobahn, information superhighway, global village (plug in your favorite metaphor here) intended to carry that freedom to all four corners of the globe, should you be concerned that a tweet, post, poke, +1 or like will result in job retribution? Well, maybe.

First off, the free speech protection found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not apply in every instance. Essentially, the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting speech; it doesn’t apply to private employers. So, unless you’re a government employee – public school teacher, police officer, etc. – you have no such freedom of speech in the workplace. And even a public servant’s speech is not entirely without restrictions. For instance, a recent case found that a public school teacher’s blog, which commented that her students were “a disgusting brood of insolent, unappreciative, selfish brats” among other niceties, was not entitled to protection under the First Amendment. The court upheld the teacher’s firing.

So is there any protection for the internet musings of the private sector/non-governmental employee? Well, as the law struggles to keep up with technology, rules governing the interaction between social media and the workplace are still developing. A number of issues have been popping up regularly and will be discussed in this blog series including:

  • Use of Social Media in hiring
  • Employer access to social media accounts
  • Company policies restricting employees’ use of social media
  • Ownership of social media accounts
  • Use of social media during internal investigations and lawsuits

Have you had any experience with your job and social media that you think requires a legal consultation? Ralph A. Somma, a Long Island, NY employment lawyer, handles workplace law cases. Contact Ralph today for a FREE telephone consultation about your case.

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Ralph A. Somma
About the Author: Ralph A. Somma
Ralph A. Somma is an experienced employment lawyer from Long Island, New York. For over 25 years, Ralph has been working to enforce workplace rights in New York and Long Island.

4 comments on “Can Social Media Cost Me My Job?”

  • Very informative and thank you for sharing. The Internet is a double edged sword it can be your best friend or your worst enemy! It’s a scary world we live in today.

  • Hey Ralph. Great article. We actually had a kid here almost get fired for bashing the college on Twitter. We are city employees. So could they have fired that kid? I think the only thing that saved him was his supervisor. After that I stopped posting on my colloeg twitter account.

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