An Australian employee was recently fired due to a rant that he posted on Facebook about a popular smartphone game, Pokemon Go, in Singapore. The incident has raised questions about social media and the consequences of expressing one’s views. When making judgements regarding the manner in which employees display unruly behavior on social media sites; in some cases, employers can choose to terminate an employee.
General Guidelines For Responding To Social Media Posts
It is not true that employers should only take action when an employee posts unacceptable messages during work hours. If they post their opinions on their own time, or for a private audience, the employer has the rights to get involved because the reputation of the company may be affected. Inflammatory messages which become public, even if they were not meant to be so, could be grounds for termination.
A growing number of people around the world are using social media sites, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Many companies both large and small have a social media presence, and the actions of their employees, whether they are positive or negative, will affect the reputation of their employer. These employers are justified in protecting their reputations, and if employees post messages which endanger it, the employer is justified in taking disciplinary action.
Employers Must Consider Free Speech And Other Laws
Within the U.S. and other democratic countries, free speech is taken seriously and employers must remain in compliance with it. Finding a balance between company policies and laws that prohibit discrimination can be difficult. In the United States and most Western societies, if an employee posts a statement that is inflammatory, but does not threaten or target fellow employees or managers, then it may be best to ignore it.
Terminating an employee over a social media post within the U.S. could backfire if they decide to file a lawsuit. Another possible solution is to host a meeting where the issue is discussed and the employee is asked to either make their post private or remove it completely. These meetings should not be disciplinary in nature and the employee should be informed that their decision to remove it is voluntary.
When Should Action Be Taken?
There are times when employers will need to take decisive action. Employees that post social message which threaten, harass or disrespect co-workers, clients, management or the company should be dealt with, particularly if the post involves any type of hate speech and violence. However, even in these cases employers should seek legal counsel before making a decision.
Let us agree first that social media is here to stay. It has become a part of the way people around the world socialize and express themselves, and sometimes they will do so in ways that get under the skin of others. One solution is for HR departments to develop their own social media policies, which existing workers and new hires can sign. This policy can explicitly prohibit certain types of speech, remarks and inappropriate conduct, and because the employee signs it, the employer will be protected in the event that they decide to take disciplinary action based on an unacceptable post that is made.