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Online job complaints -- can you get fired?

Most of us think what we do from our own computers on our own time is our personal business. But sometimes that just isn't true.

For example, one night, a bartendar got home after a rough shift and launched into a discussion with his cousin about his night at work. During the Facebook conversation, he mentioned that his company's tipping policy "sucked" because the waitresses don't have to share their tips.

He was fired for those comments.

But in other instances, employees aired their job gripes on social media sites were fired and then reinstated because what they did was protected activity. 

In my Miami Herald column, I tackled the topic and learned a lot. I hope you do, too.


The Miami Herald

Online rants — what’s protected?

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   From the YouTube video titled 'The Starbucks Rant Song'
From the YouTube video titled 'The Starbucks Rant Song'
Christopher Cristwell, a 25-year-old Starbucks barista, became fed up with rude customers and their annoying orders for skinny vanilla lattes. So, he did what young workers sometimes do these days. He made a video rant about it in song form — and uploaded it to YouTube. It quickly became a sensation.

When Starbucks fired him, Cristwell posted a video rant about that, too.

Today, posting your every move, thought and feeling on social media sites is a way of life for many adults, particularly young adults. Employers find themselves caught in the middle, wanting to use social media to promote their products and services, but also trying to determine where to draw the line on workers’ rights to post job gripes on these sites.

Workers — on and off the clock — are taking to their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to complain about everything from jerky bosses to rude customers to slacking co-workers to crappy company policies. There’s even a cottage industry of rant sites for disgruntled workers cropping up on the Internet such as www.jobvent.com. The knee-jerk reaction from most employers is to fire the worker.

“Everyone is trying to figure this out,” said Nancy Cleeland, director of public affairs for the National Labor Relations Board. Social media sites have become the office water cooler, a place where people hang out, float ideas and air their job complaints. But as Cleeland notes, “the audience potentially is so much bigger.”

At the moment, technology is ahead of employment law. Employers are being sued when their workers post photos of minors on porn sites from company computers. They’re being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for allowing employees to peddle their products without disclosing that they work for the company. They’re also being sued when they fire workers who rant about their jobs on social media sites. They’re being sued even when they have social media policies.

But the findings are going both ways — in favor of employees and employers.

“Both parties need to be careful with what they do online,” said Mark Neuberger, a management-side labor lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Miami. “There’s no direct easy answer to what’s allowable.”

Some bosses mistakenly assume that they can fire workers who complain on Facebook about the company or its managers, particularly if the employee does it from an office cubicle. But they’re discovering it’s not a slam dunk.

Click here to read more.