You Could Be Fired for What You Say When You’re Off The Clock

Can you be fired for what you say when you’re off the clock? Absolutely – especially if you do it in cyberspace. That’s because experts say that free speech isn’t necessarily protected if you speak out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or in a blog – even if you post your comments from home. Case in point: An emergency medical technician in Connecticut was fired after complaining about her manager on Facebook. Many high-profile firings have nothing to do with the job itself, like Dior’s fashion designer John Galliano, who was fired after a video of him shouting anti-Semitic remarks was posted on YouTube. A business analyst at JP Morgan Chase was fired for refusing to take down a blog marketing her self-published historical novel. Indiana’s deputy attorney general Jeffrey Cox was fired after sending tweets, and voicing his opinion that law enforcement should use live ammunition on pro-union protestors. 

So, what happened to free speech? Ann Hodges is a professor of law at the University of Virginia. She points out that the laws about privacy and free speech were written way before the computer was invented, and companies have a lot of latitude when it comes to firing or demoting workers. In fact, at the moment there are no laws protecting free speech on the Internet. So, businesses are inventing their own rules to fill the gap, coming up with blanket statements about what their employees can and can’t do on the Internet. More than one-quarter of them monitor what employees post on their personal, home-based blogs and web pages. Until things change – or new laws supporting employee rights land on the books – be cautious. If you want to keep your job, don’t post rants on the Internet about your boss, your company, or anything that might be considered offensive.

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