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Are Facebook Rants a Fireable Offense?

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Is poor judgment a firable offense? Let's say not really poor judgment, like dating the boss' spouse, but questionable judgment like publicly airing grievances about the boss. I suppose neither is really a firable offense unless you are so exhausted from sneaking around with the boss' spouse that it negatively impacts your work performance.

 

Does location matter? Is stepping out with the boss' spouse any more or less acceptable if it occurs in the privacy of your home, vs. a reasonably busy restaurant vs. a video on YouTube? While I've certainly complained about management practices to my long-suffering husband when the two of us are alone (usually in a spot like the car, where he can't get away), I couch my comments a bit more carefully if we are in a semi-public setting. You never know if that blonde at the next table is married to a member of the board, right?

 

And frankly, I'd never think about calling my employer "retarted" in a Facebook status update, an action that apparently led to a part-time employee of the Philadelphia Eagles getting fired, according to a CIO.com item. Stupid, sure, but how different from blurting out the same thing on a crowded bus? (The guy apparently even deleted the update, so it wasn't in the public eye for long, but he still got canned.)

 

Unlike this guy, I at least have my Facebook settings on "private" so only folks on my friend list can see my updates. I have, however, posted updates such as "Ann is tired of writing about IT process improvement." I suppose those could reflect negatively on my job (or at least my work ethic).

 

These are interesting questions and ones for which there don't seem to be any solid answers, as I wrote in June. An employment law specialist I cited in that post encourages employers to address it in their communications policies, specifying that employees will be subject to disciplinary action if non-work activity adversely affects the company's reputation. Make sure staff see the policy so that any resulting disciplinary actions are "far easier, less risky and less controversial," the lawyer said in an outlaw-com article. Bonus: The article links to a free, downloadable policy some companies may want to adopt. You can also get a sample social networking policy in our Knowledge Network.

 

Without clear policies, employers are inevitably going to look like the bad guys. According to a post on ESPN's Page 2, 80 percent of ESPN's SportsNation think the Eagles overreacted.

 

Page 2 blogger LZ Granderson opens an interesting can of worms when he notes that he doesn't Tweet unflattering comments about ESPN, "at least not under my legal name." In a post from last March, I mentioned a lawsuit in which Cisco was sued because a Cisco employee had damaged the reputations of two Texas patent attorneys in anonymous posts on the Patent Troll Tracker blog. The attorneys contended that Cisco was aware of the employee's blogging activities. Cisco then added to its communication policy a clause specifically addressing anonymous posts involving the company's business.

 

I suppose you run the risk of alienating employees with communications policies deemed too restrictive. But it's better than getting sued.

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