Can Your Employer Fire You for Things You Said on Social Media?
Some Speech Is More Protected Than Others
If you use Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or other social media platforms, chances are your employer can see what you’ve posted online. And it’s not that unusual for employees to be disciplined or even fired for things they say on social media. But is that lawful?
It depends, but unfortunately, this is usually within the law. Employers generally have the ability to discipline or fire employees for any reason that’s within the law—especially if they are “at will” employers.
However, there are some protections available for certain kinds of speech online. Here’s an overview of when social media speech is considered protected.
When You Post Outside of Work Hours
Generally speaking, your employer has a reasonable expectation that while you’re at work, you’ll be working and not posting on social media.
That means if you posted something during work hours, they may be within their rights to discipline you for being on social media when you should be working, regardless of what you said.
If you posted outside of work hours, your employer may still have an interest in disciplining you, usually if what you said is considered offensive, damages public trust, or reflects badly on the employer.
This is true even if your posts are marked as “private”—as courts have ruled that social media platforms are public forums where there isn’t much expectation of privacy.
When You Criticize Your Employer or Working Conditions
If you’re discussing the working conditions at your job on social media with other employees, you may have stronger protections from firing and discipline.
That’s because disciplining you for speaking honestly about your job or working conditions may fall under retaliation, which is prohibited under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Under those conditions, here are some topics of discussion online that may have stronger protections under the law:
- Salaries and pay disparities at your job
- Vacation and sick time policies
- Workplace harassment
- Union organizing
- Unsafe working conditions
- Posts in support of employees who have been disciplined
- Illegal activity at work
For the protections to be in effect, however, these posts need to be truthful. Your speech isn’t as strongly protected if your statements are untrue or misleading.
Offensive Speech Isn’t Strongly Protected
What happens if you post something on social media that the public finds offensive, that brought your employer negative attention, or that damages the public’s trust in the organization you work for?
The answer to this question is less straightforward, and it varies by state. But in general, offensive, obscene, or objectionable speech is much less strongly protected than speech about workplace conditions.
In Pennsylvania, it is lawful for your employer to monitor your Internet use in the workplace, including your social media activity. Employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace, but that privacy does not extend to posts on social media forums.
In 2019, an employee of the PA Department of Transportation was fired after posting offensive comments in a Facebook group. The employee sued, but the courts ultimately upheld her firing because it was believed that her posts damaged public trust in the department.
Have You Been Disciplined or Fired for Something You Said on Social Media?
If so, you should speak with a knowledgeable Pennsylvania employment attorney. Your attorney can assess what was said and your employer’s response, determine whether their actions were lawful, and, if necessary, help you get recompense in court.
Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free, confidential consultation today.
The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.