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How Companies Are Using Social Media to Fire Employees

Social media has changed the world, connecting millions of people through websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. For some managers, social media activity has become a factor when deciding to fire employees. Political and religious posts, photos of parties and other activities employers frown upon can sometimes cost workers their jobs. In other cases, employers may decide posts are unprofessional for other reasons. Depending on the situation, employers may not be acting in accordance with federal and Illinois laws.

With American society more politically and socially polarized than ever, upsetting potential and current employers is quite easy. Even worse for employees, is that many companies operate in “at-will” states, meaning employers can in most circumstances, terminate positions at any time.

However, social media posts do not have to be political or religious for employers to take administrative action against workers. Take for example the case of a Georgia school bus driver who was fired for offering a student who had been denied lunch 40 cents to buy a meal. The driver had posted on Facebook describing the situation, and mentioned that he would give money to students who could not afford meals. One day later, the driver was called into a meeting with the superintendent and fired.

Cases much like the example we mentioned happen around the country regularly, often getting the attention of local press.

Are Employers Breaking the Law By Firing Employees Based on Social Media Activity?

Depending on the situation, employers may be in violation of both federal and Illinois employment laws. For example, Illinois has what is known as “off-duty” laws that prohibit employers from gathering records of employees’ political activities, associations, communications and non-employment activities, unless given authorization by the employee. These same protections may not apply to workers who are blogging or making social media posts during work hours while using equipment owned by their employers.

Employees can also depend on protections offered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In December 2012, the NLRB ruled on a case where five non-profit employees had been fired for complaining about a coworker’s work performance over Facebook. The board decided the nonprofit had violated the National Labor Relations Act by firing the five employees, as their discussion involved work activities.

Although social media has transformed the American employment landscape, that does not mean employees are defenseless when facing job termination. Depending on the situation, fired employees may have legal recourse to sue their employers for wrongful termination.

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