If you live in an area where at-will employment laws exist, you can fire an employee for any reason that doesn’t constitute discrimination against a protected class. You can technically terminate their employment because their coffee cup leaves rings on the desk. Social media adds a whole new layer to this debate – even if you can, is it worth firing an employee over a post?
In truth, it isn’t a very black and white situation. There may be times when it is absolutely necessary to fire an employee over something they have shared on social media. There are other times where it would be overtly reactionary and inappropriate, and could easily backfire right at you and your company. Size up the situation before you make a move.
1. Does it Violate Any Agreements?
Many employees are required to adhere to handbook policies and some kind of confidentiality agreement. This agreement will typically state that they are barred from disclosing certain information for privacy reasons. Many companies use these agreements to protect trade secrets, upcoming projects, proprietary information, and the identities of their clients. Agreements like these are important, and when they’re violated, companies are liable to face significant damage.
If the employee in question posted something on social media that violated such an agreement, let that employee go. If they’ve done it more than once, don’t hesitate. They’re jeopardizing your company and are negatively impacting your ability to do business, not to mention that they help your competition gain the upper hand over you. Hold such employees accountable for violating the agreement.
2. Do the Post Reveal Deceptive Patterns of Behavior?
All of your employees have different life circumstances. They may get sick frequently. They might need to travel for emergencies or important events. They may have to grieve the death of a loved one. These are important reasons to request time off. That’s why companies give them time to utilize for this purpose.
Companies also give them vacation time. Extra days off to use as leisure when things are good. Periods of time for rest, relaxation, adventure, and de-stressing. And if an employee wants to do those things, he or she should utilize that time for its intended purpose.
If the employee’s frequent stomach bugs and funeral trips result in photos of them at a beach bar, a concert, or a house party, you shouldn’t accept that. If this employee is otherwise great at his or her job, discipline the employee first. If they’re underperforming and skipping work for leisure, it may be necessary to let them go.
3. Are the Posts Somewhat Enlightening?
Absolutely everyone complains about their job and customers or clients who have treated them badly. Some people do it in private when they get home from a stressful day. Others may take to social media to express those complaints. While it’s not wise to air out dirty laundry in public, some people just desperately need to vent. Research indicates that an average person spends up to 144 minutes a day on social media, so describing their work day there doesn’t feel like a big deal to them. If the post doesn’t contain any threats or slurs, nor does it defames other employees, you, or your company – hit the pause button.
If your employee feels overwhelmed at work, so much so that they feel the need to vent about it at social media, you shouldn’t get angry but instead treat it as an opportunity to improve your employee management style. The employee in question might simply require some help. Don’t fire them, but instead listen to what they have to say and explore ways to make the situation better. You might find flaws in your employee management style that you were not aware of. You might find that some of your employees feel as though they’re being treated unfairly or that management doesn’t care about them. And if you not only listen but also ask questions, you might be able to find ways to strengthen your company culture and improve bonds between your employees.
In the end, your employee’s social media posts might help you uncover and fix some stressful office problems – an outcome that will benefit your entire company.
4. Was the Post Private or Protected?
It doesn’t matter what was posted if that particular post was private or protected, particularly if management or coworkers were unable to view it in any above-board way. If you’ve come into a post you were prohibited from seeing, you can’t act upon it. You’ve essentially violated your employee’s privacy and used your findings to fire them. The things they express in private or to a limited audience cannot leave them open to scrutiny.
5. Did the Post Expose Wrongdoing?
If the social media post described an incident where someone felt threatened or harassed in the workplace, or an incident where laws were being broken at work, you cannot fire the employee. Whistleblowers might aggravate the bottom line, but what they have to say is important. Instead, turn your focus to the individual responsible for the negative situation. You might want to fire them instead.
Deciding whether or not to fire someone is a huge decision. Before you make a choice, consider the situation from all angles and be sure you’re informed and resolute in what your next move should be.
Sienna Walker is an ex-tutor, a careers and education blogger, and a lifelong-learning advocate. With her great passion for learning new things, she might often be found online, participating in online courses or sharing her employment tips with both job-seekers, employees, and bosses alike. Feel free to visit her at her Twitter @SiennaWalkerS and say “hello” to her.