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Can Employers Fire Workers Who Mouth Off on Social Media?

You might be the top sales agent or superstar employee at your company, but if you post offensive comments on Facebook, you’ll probably be looking for another job. Comments about things going on in the news, personal beliefs and even bad jokes can be severely detrimental when posted on a company’s Facebook page, Twitter feed or any other social media site. One wrongly-worded, racist, religious or otherwise offensive comment can single-handedly ruin a company’s image.

Arkansas business owner, Ileaa Swift, learned the hard way how a bad Facebook post can hurt business when one of her employees posted homophobic comments on the social media site. Swift, the owner of Swift Travel Deals, said, “It posted around one in the morning. The next morning, when I got up, I had all these calls and emails and hate mail.” More than just hurting a company’s image, these offensive comments can put employers at risk for lawsuits and customer loss. Swift lost several customers in the process, including several gay and lesbian clients.

Many large companies have social media policies that are very closely monitored, however this is rarely the case with small companies. Swift immediately contacted her employee, asking her to stop, but she simply moved her comments to her own page and kept up with the offensive posts. Swift had no choice but to fire her, saying “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because she was a superstar agent, but we have to respect (our customers).”

Employers have a duty to take disciplinary action when they learn about an employee’s social media posts containing offensive remarks with regard to race, sexual orientation, gender or religion. Employers can be sued under anti-discrimination laws if the offending employee is not fired. Unfortunately, to make things even more complicated, whether a comment is truly offensive or not can be subjective in nature. Clearly discriminatory posts are grounds for dismissal. But what if the comments only offend one or two people? What if a man, whose wife just left him for a 20-something surfer, posts “I hate women?” Courts may consider that venting, not discrimination against women.

This is a complex area of the law. It’s important for employers to consult employment law attorneys to ensure they are protected against crippling costs from wrongfully terminating an employee and other lawsuits from not terminating an employee who did, in fact, make discriminatory comments.

An experienced employment attorney can help you put together an effective social media policy and will help you make an informed decision if you are faced with a similar situation. Contact the experienced employment lawyers at Posternock Apell, PC for sound legal advice regarding employee management strategies.