Why Employee Use of Social Media "Off the Clock" May Still Impact Your Workplace

Why Employee Use of Social Media "Off the Clock" May Still Impact Your Workplace

 A few weeks, ago I was speaking about social media and the workplace to a fabulous audience at the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference and Expo. (Email me if you want a copy of my slidedeck).

One of my session themes was that there is no such thing as employees using social media "off the clock." That is, even if an individual tweets or updates her Facebook status outside of the four walls of the workplace, that communication can still impact the workplace.

Dan Davis at IBM Social Business recently blogged about this, and another Twitter user described it as the "24/7 social media conundrum" Two recent incidents described below bear this out.

The complaining waitress and poor tipper, who just happens to be the waitress's Facebook friend.

First, is comes this report of a waitress at the Texas Roadhouse, who, on her own personal time, took to Facebook to complain about customer tips. For this outburst, she was fired.

The article, which is framed in terms of the employee's supposed "First Amendment Rights" cites criticism of the restaurant for taking action against the waitress, ostensibly because she should have the right to complain (or not complain) freely about her working conditions.

However, before you go an sympathetic on me, I should mention that it's not as if the employer were twisting it's proverbial handlebar mustache as it monitored social media for workplace gripes from employees.

No, in this case, the waitress stupidly complained on Facebook about a tip from an "a**hole" customer ... who happened to be one of her Facebook friends! The Facebook friend showed the post to the restaurant manager, which in turn, led to the waitress's termination.

Folks, this is no different than if the waitress had called the customer as a**hole -- to her face. Actually, it is, because not only did the waitress embarrass her Facebook friend, a customer of the restaurant, she did so publicly.

That's a terminable offense. Period.

The Opie and Anthony Show.

As a big Howard Stern fan -- Bababooey! -- I can't say that I'm too broken up over the news from last week that SiriusXM fired Anthony Cumia, of the Opie and Anthony Show following a vulgar, violent, racist, sexist Twitter tirade.

(Gawker has a NSFW recap here).

Yes, Mr. Cumia spewed on his own time. However, what was clearly not schtick, went very viral and became very public. So, SiriusXM decided that the was not the type of person it wanted to continue to employ.

Ignore "off the clock" social media rants at your own risk.

Do employees have the right to complain about work, either offline or online? In many circumstances, they do.

But, would you tolerate the type of behavior described in the examples above? If your response is something along the lines of "what employees do on their own time is not my concern," then, it's time to step into the 21st century. Because online communication is permanent, viral, and does not respect the brick and mortar you use to insulate your employees from the outside world.

Would you stick with a "what employees do on their own time..." line if one of your employees is offended by a Cumia-style rant read on one of your computers in your workplace?

And what if that rant was specifically intended for a co-worker? When one of your employees composes a racist tweet or a sexually-harassing Facebook post aimed at a co-worker, and the "victim" complains to a HR, it does not matter that the speech was off-the-clock. If the victim feels victimized at work, it's a workplace problem. So, treat it accordingly.

Otherwise, don't lose my number when the lawsuit gets filed.

 This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer Handbook.

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