Many people enjoy spouting off what they view as 140-character tidbits of wisdom on the social media platform Twitter. But recently several individuals have found themselves in trouble with their employers (read: former employers) for their tweets or other social media posts.
One recent example was a loan officer from Michigan who crafted a racist tweet, not worth repeating here, following First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Twitter users saw the tweet and tracked down the home loan company the woman worked for. The result was a flood of tweets directed to the company’s Twitter profile calling their attention to the tweet and asking if the employee’s views represented the company’s values.
One individual tweeted to the company, “you can’t tell me someone who holds this view on the @FLOTUS is not abusing her powers on other minorities.” Others went straight to the point and asked the company, “Will you continue to employ someone who is racist?”
The company saw the tweets and immediately took action by issuing a statement in response on Twitter. The company denounced the woman’s reprehensible comments and stated she was no longer employed with the company. The company emphasized that they do not condone such comments, which were made on the employee’s personal account.
Similarly, a national bank employee lost her job earlier this summer after a Facebook rant filled with racist remarks. The employee’s profile listed that she was an employee of the bank, and social media users immediately began sending the bank thousands of comments about the post. The bank investigated the post and terminated the employee, issuing a statement that they were aware of the reprehensible post on Facebook and the employee had been terminated. In this instance, many customers even threatened to close their accounts with the bank.
The public appeared particularly attuned to this issue given that in 2013 the bank was ordered to pay more than 1,000 African American job applicants over $2 million in back wages and interest after a judge found one of the company’s offices had discriminated against them based on their race.
Even celebrities like Blake Shelton, a judge on the popular singing competition show The Voice, have been called out by the Twitter masses for their tweets. Just last week, the country singer tweeted what some have dubbed a “non-apology” for past racist and homophobic tweets. Some of the tweets in question stem as far back as 2008, proving once again that the Internet never forgets.
With social media, it’s possible for a tweet or post to go viral immediately, and companies must be attuned to their social mentions and quickly take action if problematic posts surface. As with the bank case, delaying an investigation and taking action could cost a company customers and create bad PR.
If a company is considering taking action against an employee for a problematic post on social media, HR should be sure to immediately save or print a copy of the post in question in case the employee attempts to delete it. Employers also should keep in mind that some states might limit an employer’s ability to investigate social media or take action against an applicant or employee based on off-duty conduct.
Of course, employers also must be cognizant of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in analyzing employees’ social media posts. In recent cases, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that certain employee posts, and even rants, were protected activity under the NLRA because they pertained to concerted activity and union activity. The NLRB has found that employers violated the NLRA by terminating employees for participation in protected conduct, and has awarded back pay.
In light of these recent tweets, it’s important for employers to evaluate their social media policies and consider how they might respond to an employee who makes a racist, sexist, or otherwise inappropriate remark on a personal social media page. Employers should be extremely careful when disciplining employees over social media posts, however, especially if the posts pertain to conditions of employment. Employers considering disciplinary action or termination based on an employee’s social media post should act swiftly but consult with counsel beforehand.