Social media posts are protected under the First Amendment, as most of us know. But what people may not realize is that the Constitution only protects online freedom of speech when it comes to government involvement, not the actions of private companies.
Employment in California, and most of the rest of the United States is at will, which means that an employer can fire someone for no reason — unless the reason is the result of discrimination against someone’s race, gender, age, religion, disability or national origin. If someone posts a meme or a crude joke that his or her boss finds offensive, they can be disciplined or lose their jobs.
Sometimes the rules are even stricter. A journalist, for instance, usually is told by editors to refrain from liking a political candidate’s Facebook page because it would appear that he or she supports that candidate and therefore cannot remain objective.
As social media continues to evolve into an even larger communications tool for users, some protections against employment termination are evolving as well. In late 2012, the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces federal labor laws and addresses workplace issues, ruled that employees can’t lose their jobs for posting Facebook comments about “protected concerted activity” — in other words, they had a right to talk among themselves about their horrible working conditions.
Under federal guidelines, people have a right to communicate with each other about the terms and conditions of their jobs, especially when they meet outside of work.
There are differences, however. A reporter at the Arizona Sun was fired “for posting unprofessional and inappropriate tweets to a work-related Twitter account,” according to Forbes. The reporter had opened the account as a Sun reporter, not a private person, and at the newspaper’s urging.
According to the Forbes story, the reporter had gotten a warning after tweeting about how bad his paper’s copy editors were. He was fired, though, after tweeting insensitive things about local homicides and and for criticizing a local TV news station. The National Labor Relations Board upheld the termination, because there was no concerted activity happening, Forbes reported.
If you feel you were wrongfully terminated, it is important to discuss your concerns with an experienced California employment attorney as soon as possible.