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How to Not Get Fired Using Facebook at Work: The Writing’s on the (Wrong) Wall

Last year, a couple colleagues and I put together a workshop (full slides below) entitled, “How to Use Social Media and Not Jeopardize Your Job.” I delivered a variation of it at the Philadelphia Federal Executive Board’s EEO and Diversity Day back in November.

During the workshop, participants break into small groups to grapple with several common scenarios that arise in the workplace around social media use by employees. Over the next 4 weeks, I am going to share the scenarios that we use in the classroom and invite you to grapple with them, too. Here’s the first one:

Karla is a Human Resources Specialist at an agency. After a particularly difficult day, Karla is frustrated with a colleague and makes the following comment on Facebook: “Ridiculous how [name of agency] keeps incompetent people around. I’d say it’s time for them to clean house!” There are rumors of a reduction in force coming on the horizon, but nothing official has been announced. She makes the comment after work hours from a home computer.

  • Would / should Karla lose her job?
  • What would be a fair policy in terms of how agency employees should use social media during their personal time?
  • What if colleagues join her in commenting about the work situation and begin to organize to do something about it?


Recommendation for Employees:
  • An employee should be extremely careful in posting anything about work, especially if it casts the agency, a colleague or a customer in a negative light.

Recommendation for Employers:
  • A fair policy would seek to clarify the difference between professional and personal use and connect online behavior to current guidance on the appropriate conduct of an employee in a public setting.


View more presentations from GovLoop.

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Corey McCarren

It’s issues like this that I like and that really hit that spot where there’s no perfect solution (which is why I like them, they don’t allow room to not think critically). On one hand she should have a reasonable expectation to freedom of speech, but on the other hand it doesn’t make sense to have employees that are tarnishing the reputation of the organization they work for. As she didn’t call anyone out personally, I think the situation you’ve listed would be a slap-on-the-wrist type of scenario. If it were just let slide, however, it could definitely be a slippery slope, especially as Karla is an HR manager.

Carol Davison

Why bite the hand that is employing you? Poor judgement here and presumably elsewhere. Karla has reached the pinacle or her career at X agency. At my agnecy we receive 300 applicaitons for each opening. The agency might try to discipline her for conduct unbecoming. I would not associate with her anymore. It is also very harmful to the agency to spread rumors of a rift. That seriously undermines morale, perhaps unnecessarily. As an HR person you are considered to have inside or expert informaiton and should be held accountable for what you say. It is somewhat like yelling FIRE! in a crowded theater. When ever I train I very carefully explain anything that could be considered a negative policy. Yes Americans has freedom of speech but if I did the same during my career at X Corporation I would be subject to the same consequences. I don’t understand why young peole quote speech freedom as a get out of consequences free card.

Keena Cauthen

What I see that she did wrong was name the organization that she works with. She did not say that they were “cleaning house” or rifts were coming… she made a personal opinion wondering how the company keeps incomptent folks around and that she beleives that they should be cleaned out. She made no comment that there was a rift coming, or that said individual would be going during said rift, which is where the yelling Fire reference would be more applicable. She voiced an opinion. She should get her hand slapped for naming the organization, but other than that, I don’t see where she should get in trouble for voicing an opinion that I’m sure several of us have made, either in person, via e-mails, or some other form of electronic communication. I know that there have been times I’ve made similar comments on my FB page, but without specifics as to individuals or company, and I don’t include my current employer in my profile information for that specific reason too.

Doris L Ryan-Poe

Carol, I can see where you are coming from. But here is a different take on the situation.

Everyone blows off steam about their job. I’m sure at some point in your career you have taken part in a complaint session about your work or coworkers (at dinner with your spouse or equivalent, during a family BBQ, having a couple of drinks with girlfriends after work, over the phone talking to your sister/brother/cousin, etc.). Being able to voice you dissatisfaction with your work environment, your manager, your coworkers is a part of the way human beings cope with stress. It is also a way you seek feedback on what you can do to make the situation better (i.e. do you try and stick it out or do you throw in the towel and look for something else). You can’t possibly tell me that you have NEVER had a co-worker that you really wish wasn’t a co-worker. Have you really never let words like that slip through your lips, even when you felt you were in a forum that was safe for you to express your opinions?

Social media has become the avenue of choice for many people to keep in contact with other. It is, for many, the equivalent of a phone call with a friend or dinner with your family and so on. Many people, a pandemic of people really, forget that what they write in a Social Media forum is often very public – even if they are thinking they are only posting to their friends and family members. They feel safe posting details on their Facebook page (that is if they don’t have their privacy setting figured out correctly) they would never think to publish in a newspaper for anyone/everyone to read. You hear all the time of people who get burglarized because they have posted they would be out of the country for five weeks on their dream European vacation – after having posted enough information over the course of months or years for someone to pinpoint where they live. It is not uncommon to forget who is (or potentially is) “listening” to you when you are posting on a Social Media site.

Having said that, I do agree being an HR person she certainly should have known better than to make the comment and put the name of her agency to it. However, it is just an assumption that she knew there were rumors of a RIF. She really didn’t say anything specific that was slanderous – though it definitely put the agency in less than a stellar light by implying they embrace incompetence. This seems to be relatively harmless and should be addressed, but I don’t think it should be the end of her career.

Carol Davison

I don’t put anything on social media or email I don’t want published in the NY Times.

Of course I talk to my friends and being my friends they don’t repeat it. This explains friendship.

It’s not about choosing to use social media, its about using your brain.

Dena Mirando

Brilliant! I’m excited to see this Marine and what happens in this case regarding his remarks on his Command in Chief.

Kathy Sciannella

The reality is that you must be careful what you post on Facebook. That is especially imperative with respect to workplace venting.

FIrst of all, Facebook and other forms of social media is now being veiwed as part of the application process for many positions. If you rant about your job, what do you think your chances will be of having another one?

I read about an instance where an employee was fired because a customer ranted on Facebook and Twitter about bad service. Social media postings have credability in today’s world. I also personally know of of someone whpo was fired for what he said on Facebook about this company. It was in the IT industry. If you want to vent, use private message and keep it between people you trust.

I agree with the posting, don’t post on Facebook what you don’t want in the NY Times. Facebook/Twitter/Linked In is your footprint on the world and you need to make sure it’s a footprint you are proud to share. Negative and angry messages should stay between trusted colleagues and friends — not outside in the social realm.

Dennis Snyder

I’m with Doris on this one. Was a law broken? Was the Constitution not upheld? If someone won’t listen to criticism directly, and ***THIS VERY SITE*** promotes the use of social media, then should we Gov-Loopers be in support of the public’s right to free expression using the tools we gave them and actively promote? Or do I need to cancel my membership because we can’t keep our story straight?