Anthony Weiner, the former Congressman and current candidate for New York Mayor, isn’t the first person to tweet his way out of a job. For the last few years, stories have been circulating about lots of people who were marched off the job after exposing something through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the like. Take the case of the admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania who was fired after her bosses discovered that she shared – and mocked – excerpts from student essays on her “private” Facebook page. Some accounts of this phenomenon read like a “who’s who” of people terminated on account of social media blunders and gaffes.
Now there are studies confirming the perils of posting on social media sites for job seekers. According to a 2007 survey by a privacy think tank, 35% of managers use Google to do online background checks of potential employees, and 23% look people up on social media sites. These social media background checks can have devastating results. According to a study by On Device Research, 1 in 10 young job seekers believe they have lost a job opportunity due to their social media profiles.
Plenty of employers also don’t take kindly to criticism. Witness the school bus driver in metropolitan Atlanta who was terminated following a Facebook post in which he claimed that students in need were not being provided with free lunches. Things turned out somewhat better for the three co-workers who were fired after a Facebook gripe session. The National Labor Relations Board decided that the company was wrong to fire them because the three were doing more than talking trash about the company and the manager – they were working together to try to change their work environment. That kind of “concerted activity” is protected under federal law.
Employees should be careful about assuming that their on-line comments will be protected by law. Ultimately, the question may have to be answered by a judge – and that only happens after you’ve been fired.
So, the next time you thinking about posting a snarky comment about a colleague on your Facebook page, or sending a tweet about something stupid your manager just said in a meeting, stop and ask yourself, “is this something that I’d like my boss to read?” If the answer is no, do yourself (and your career) a favor. Back away from the keyboard and save your humor for another time – preferably in person with a living, breathing friend instead of the virtual friends whose retweet could put you on the path to the unemployment office.