Assignment ID: FG133140786
Angie was standing at her (former) desk picking up her personal items and wondering how she had gotten into this mess. At one shoulder was the head of HR and at the other was one of the security officers. They were there to escort her out of the building as soon as she retrieved her personal items. Thinking back, the last hour or so had been a whirlwind. She had come to work like she had for the past several months, maybe a little late and a little hungover, but she was there.
Shortly after she had sat down at her desk to start making phone calls, her supervisor had called her into his office. He asked her to accompany him to the HR Manager’s office. Once there, she saw a printout of her Facebook page and the blog that she kept on pretty much a daily basis. She was a little embarrassed by the photos on the printouts from her Facebook page, but at least they weren’t as racy as some she had considered putting up. She was really glad that when she graduated from college, she had purged her account of all of those pictures of the Florida vacations on the beach (and other places).
Angie knew, like all of the other employees, that company management had recently been going through some of the social networking sites to review potential recruits before they decided to hire them, but she didn’t know anything about management reviewing current employees’ personal web pages. Well, she thought, my pages are pretty clean since I was warned about this by career services in college.
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However, what she saw next really bothered her. There was the highlighted section of her blog from last Thursday. She had forgotten about that! In the post, she had noted that she had a whopping hangover because of the girls’ night out on Wednesday, and “I think I’ll call in sick because I just can’t face working for that idiot with this headache.” Well, they knew that she wasn’t sick. How could she have been that stupid?
As she sat there, she suddenly realized that this was no normal conversation–it looked more like an inquisition. And when the HR Manager informed her that the company was going to terminate her employment, she couldn’t believe it. What had happened to freedom of speech? What had happened to a person’s right to have a life outside of work? Could they monitor her personal communications that had nothing to do with work and then use them against her? She wasn’t sure, but she thought that was wrong. Nonetheless, here she was cleaning out her desk.
According to a recent study by the company Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com, almost half of employers are using social networks to screen job candidates. Over a third of employers had decided not to offer jobs to potential candidates based on content from their social networking sites including Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, Twitter, and others. CareerBuilder notes in another article how a person can get fired because of social media. They give the following five reasons as among the most prevalent: posting a scandalous photo; viewing or updating your profile on company time; posting information that conflicts with your employer’s values; revealing why you’re a lousy employee; and venting about your employer, boss, or job.
Social media sites are no longer just a location where you can connect with your friends. Companies are routinely using these sites to research both recruits for employment and the actions of current employees. The Internet is full of references to people fired for things that they said on their personal web pages. And it doesn’t necessarily matter if you set your pages to private. Your friends may still capture comments that you’ve made on their pages without you even knowing about it. In addition, recruiters may use your “friend” list to find people to call for references, and if your friend is unaware of the purpose of the call, they might say something that you’d rather they didn’t. Employers can look at who has recommended you on sites such as LinkedIn and may approach those references as well.
Social media is here to stay and companies are using it, but is Angie right? Can the company use her personal pages on social media sites against her as an employee? Should the employer be able to discipline an employee because of a personal social media page? Even if they can, is it ethical? Can an employee have any expectation that their personal rants, whether against their employer or the local store or their former boyfriend or girlfriend, are private? Isn’t free speech protected by the Constitution? Organizations (and many employees and former employees) are now struggling with these questions. We will discuss these questions as we explore the world of 21st-century HRM over the next 14 chapters, but right now, what do you think?
1. Does Angie have a right to say what she wants on her Facebook page or in her blog? Why or why not?
2. What if she harmed the company or its reputation in some way with what she posted? Would that change your answer?
3. What if she gave out confidential information about new products or services?
4. Is it legal for the company to terminate an employee because of something they did away from work?
5. If it is legal for the company to terminate an employee for something they did on their own time, in what circumstances would this be legal? For example:
Would it be legal for the company to terminate an employee because the employee campaigned for a politician who was writing legislation that would harm the interests of the company?
Would it be legal for the company to terminate someone who wrote in their blog that they had physically assaulted another person because they were angry?
Would it be legal to terminate someone who wrote that they carried a gun to work, even though they really didn’t?
6. Does Angie have any legal recourse because of the company firing her over her social media posts?