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By Khalilah Starks

Social media can be so much fun. You create your own little world where you connect and share your thoughts, pictures, whereabouts and anything else on your mind with friends and family. It’s your world, your page – Your profile. And, since it’s yours, you can say whatever you like, right? Absolutely! But, saying the wrong thing does come with costs. It can come back to haunt you professionally.

Here are five things you need to know about social media:

1. You Can Be Fired or Disciplined For What You Post Online.

Say the wrong thing and you could get disciplined or even lose your job if your employer finds out about it. Yes, you have freedom of speech. But, that doesn’t mean that your employer can’t take action against you for what you’ve said. Disparaging comments and airing confidential information can land you in hot water. Let’s not forget the California woman who was fired for posting a racist and threatening status about President Obama on Facebook.

Consequences aren’t just reserved for those who make comments about the President. Recently, a person was fired from their job for posting disrespectful statements on Facebook about someone who visited their company. Also, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upheld the firing of an employee who was terminated for inappropriate Facebook posts.

2. Much of What You Say Is Protected

Here’s the good news. Much of what you say on the internet is protected. Workers have rights. So, employers have to be cautious before taking any type of adverse action against an employee. If your employer takes some sort of adverse action against you for what you’ve posted, you should seek legal guidance to determine if your rights have been violated.

3. It Doesn’t Matter Whether You Post at Home or at Work

Many people seem to think that what they say online during their personal time or on their personal computer is automatically protected. Wrong! Time and place do not matter. If you post a comment that isn’t legally protected, you can be disciplined or fired regardless of when and what device you used to post the comment.

4. You Can Be Denied Employment Based on What an Employer Finds Online

If you’re currently looking for employment, your social media presence should be super clean. Employers will search Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to see what they find. If they find inappropriate posts (sex, violence, drugs, etc.), the game is over. Grammatical errors and typos are also the kiss of death.

5. Your Friends Are Not Necessarily Your Friends

Let’s not confuse social media friends with real friends. These are people that you’ve merely invited into your cyber world. Be aware of those that I call “frienemies.” These are the people that pose as friends, but will plot against you if given a chance. These are the people that won’t privately advise you to remove an inappropriate post. Instead, they will use it against you. Just recently, I learned of a case where an employee was fired for an inappropriate Facebook posting which was shared with the employee’s company by a Facebook frienemy. The frienemy didn’t even work for the employee’s company. Even the strictest privacy settings can’t guard against these situations.

The laws continue to evolve around social media and there are lots of unanswered questions about what’s protected and what’s not. What I’m writing today, could and probably will change. So, it’s best to be very careful and think twice about what you post.

My rule of thumb – If I get mortified by the thought of my boss or client seeing my posts, I don’t post it. Even if your employer can’t discipline or fire you for what you’ve posted, they can still find ways to take adverse action against you without even mentioning your social media indiscretions. No promotion, a poor performance rating or a minimal pay increase can be justified in other ways. Not to mention the credibility that you stand to lose, which really is the kiss of professional death. So, think wisely before clicking “Post” or “Tweet”.


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