Table of Contents of this Article:
Social Media: Fired from Job
Getting Fired for Social Media (including Facebook)
by Adele Nicholas
Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s job isn’t the only one lost over social media conduct.
Former United States Congressman Anthony Weiner might wish he’d taken a cue from San Diego’s Frank Lampedusa before sending racy pictures of himself to young women over his social media accounts. Lampedusa knows first-hand how posting risqué copy; content on the Internet can ruin a career.
Lampedusa didn’t seem to be thinking about his job as a tenured middle school teacher and dean when he posted an anonymous ad on Craigslist seeking sex partners one weekend in June 2008. He made one big mistake–posting a photo of his face online, along with images of other parts of his anatomy.
A middle school parent discovered the ad and called the police. After an investigation, the school district fired Lampedusa, citing “evident unfitness for service” and “immoral conduct.” Lampedusa appealed, arguing that posting the ad on his own time from his home computer was insufficient grounds for termination. Last spring the state’s Fourth Appellate District upheld the dismissal, ruling that the ad impaired Lampedusa’s ability to do his job by damaging his reputation among colleagues (San Diego Unified School Dist. v. Comm’n on Prof. Competence, 194 Cal. App. 4th 1454 (2011)).
Days later, federal authorities filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of five employees who were fired after complaining about their employer on Facebook. Hispanics United of Buffalo is accused of unlawfully restraining employees from discussing workplace grievances, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. In a similar case, an emergency medical technician, fired for disparaging her boss on Facebook, recently settled her NLRB lawsuit against American Medical Response of Connecticut.
These cases highlight the evolving tension between employers’ need to protect their reputations on the Internet and employees’ freedom to engage in legal conduct off duty.
“The age of technology is obliterating what was previously a clearer distinction between work and personal life,” says Mark Bresee, who was general counsel for the San Diego school district in the Lampedusa case.
This leaves employers scrambling to craft a common-sense approach to managing employees’ use of social media. The key seems to be restraint. Both NLRB cases argue that a blanket restriction barring workers from any use of the Internet to disparage the employer is so broad that it might deter legitimate discussion of grievances. On the other hand, the Lampedusa court found that the school district’s decision was based on legitimate concerns, including special standards that apply to licensed teachers.