Posting on your private social media accounts may seem separate and distinct from your business life. Most employees think that is true until you get called into your boss’s office to discuss your last Facebook post. Employees often learn the hard way about this possibility, and it is not unlikely that your employer can fire you for something you posted on your personal social media account. This is definitely not a black and white area, but the use of the information you post can undoubtedly hurt your career.

California abides by at-will employment laws. This means that you, as the employee, do not need to give a reason before quitting a job, and your employer doesn’t need a reason to terminate you. More precisely, if your employer has a legal basis (not just a discriminatory one) to fire you, they don’t have to give a reason. Unless you have an actual contract specifying otherwise, what your employer sees on your social media could very well lead to you being terminated.

The National Labor Relations Board gives employees the right to engage in “concerted activities.” This means that employees have the right to discuss their jobs – including complaints about their jobs, issues with employers, and working conditions—with other employees without fear of termination. As an employee, you may also use social media to discuss your work with other employees to address work issues positively or constructively. However, if these posts are not only among employees but posted so the general public can view them, you could be terminated for violating your company’s protected activity.

This is a highly grey area, though, and how sensitive topics are worded or even agreed to by other employees can make all the difference. An employment rights attorney will help you understand whether you violated your employer’s trust. Remember, California employers cannot fire workers because of their religious beliefs, gender, sex, race, disability, or age. Doing so goes against Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from workplace discrimination.

If your posts put your company in a position of even seeming to violate this act, both you and your employer may face serious consequences. However, there might be reasons that your termination due to a social media post violates your rights and for that reason, the termination may not be valid.

What Limitations are There Regarding Social Media as a Tool to Fire Employees?

Your employer cannot fire you for things posted on your social media that they simply don’t like or agree with. There are some existing laws regarding this, and it always goes back to exactly what you were writing about.

Political messages are protected in a select few states, and a company’s employees cannot be disciplined based on their political beliefs and activities. In such states, if an employee is disciplined or fired for expressing political views online, he or she may have a legal claim against the employer.

Retaliation by your employer is another area you are protected from. Several federal and state laws protect employees from retaliation due to reporting certain types of problems (harassment, discrimination, unsafe working conditions, etc). If an employer takes action against an employee who reports a problem online, that could constitute retaliation. You should definitely consult a lawyer skilled in employment law, as this form of illegal retaliation would probably work on your behalf and be looked at carefully by the court.

Only a few states forbid employers from disciplining employees for what they do in their personal time. This is as long as those activities are legal. In states like these, an employee may be protected from discipline for online posts. Your off duty time is usually considered yours, but you need to be very mindful of all your postings.

Venting online about your working conditions, how it is challenging to work at your job, or how unpleasant it is, might not be strictly forbidden. Still, it could be the exact subject matter involved that can get you into trouble or even terminated. This might be especially true if you signed a non-compete or non-disclosure agreement with your employer. If your post conflicts with your employment agreement, your job might be in jeopardy.

There are certain things that most definitely are off-limits and should not be posted on social media. As an example, if you start a job and immediately begin posting that it’s boring and the other employees are “stuck up,” you could be showing an initial bad attitude, and there are instances where some employees have been fired for postings like that.

Any post that even hints or alludes to violence of any kind is not tolerated, and there have been various incidents of terminations over that subject as well. Direct threats of violence or even online violence could almost assuredly get you fired.

References to illegal drug use, or “how can I pass a drug test” is another area that can hurt you. Be mindful of what you post, and remember the impact that social media has on our lives and career is not going away. If anything, it will be used by employers more and more to evaluate new hires, employee’s behavior at work or home, and how their employees behave in general.

Because it is such a grey area, you need an employment lawyer that will fight for justice on behalf of workers. Don’t put yourself in a difficult position by being careless on social media, and make sure to get the advice of a local employment lawyer that gives you honest and aggressive representation.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.