Ever gotten bored during the workday and picked up your smartphone to play around on Twitter? Ever tempted to complain about your company or your boss?
Beware. It could cost you your job.
Social media is as much a part of our social fabric now as interpersonal communication. And people are using it while at work and to talk about work. Ask yourself… if you walked out to the sidewalk in front of your company and announced to everyone how crappy your company and its policies are, would you be surprised if management finds out and disciplines or terminates your employment?
Employers and courts see social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram as the equivalent of shouting from a rooftop. The content you create becomes public — available for consumption by anyone who can figure out how to set up a Twitter handle. Just because you created the post on your private smartphone doesn’t transform a public message into a private expression. Even more private or esoteric platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn can present challenges because even though you can (mostly) control the audience, you can’t control who your audience decides to tell. And in a world of facile screenshot capability, you never know where your private messages might end up.
By law, employers are required to balance their business interests in maintaining a good reputation with employees’ rights to discuss with one another their working conditions. However, platforms such as Twitter and Instagram air your dirty laundry to many more than just your coworkers. For that reason, employers are trolling the Twitterverse for negative comments because they have a genuine business interest in preserving and maintaining a certain image or reputation. When you announce to millions of people that you hate your job because your employer’s management structure sucks, your employer is going to fire back — and fire you.
Also be wary (or just plain don’t) use employer-provided devices to conduct your personal social business. You have zero expectation of privacy in the content you create on a phone that your employer pays for. Some courts have even said that you have no expectation of privacy even in content you create on your own phone that is broadcast via your employer’s wireless network.
Be smart about the way you air your complaints at work. Many of us have found it helpful to “vent” about issues at work. Go ahead and do so, but perhaps use the good ole pow-wow around the water cooler method instead of a Twitter message to hundreds or thousands of people. Your complaints will be limited to an audience of coworkers and what you say would probably be considered protected “concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act.
If your workplace doesn’t have a clear and comprehensive social media policy, you may want to ask your employer to draft one that both protects the employer’s business and employees’ social liberty.
And while we’re talking about social media – don’t use social media while you’re at work unless it’s part of your job. It’s fairly easy for an employer to track that instead of working on that big report you were putting your vacation pics on Instagram.