6 Ways Facebook Can Get You Fired, and How to Stay Safe

We post about news big and small on Facebook. Most of us share thoughts that are carefully considered and observations that are inconsequential. We post about things that go on at home, at work, at school, and everywhere in between. Most of us are aware that there are some topics that are better not to broach on the world’s biggest social network, but sometimes, we’re less careful than we should be. Posting the wrong thing on Facebook can get you in trouble with your boss or can even cost you your job, so it’s important to be mindful of your posts.

It’s tempting to believe that the things you post on your personal account can’t get you in trouble, but most of us are Facebook friends with at least a colleague or two. And despite your privacy settings, it’s easier than you might imagine for posts to be shared and seen by other people in your company. You’ve likely heard stories of people being fired after writing injudicious Facebook posts or making other social media mistakes. But could it happen to you? Check out the ways that Facebook can get you fired, and learn our tips for staying safe on the social network.

1. Problem: Misplacing faith in the First Amendment to protect what you say

Solution: Learn the legal protections you do and don’t have online

People are seen in front of an light installation during a press preview of the "Facebook Innovation Hub"

You’re free to say whatever you’d like on Facebook, but just remember that your company may be reading your posts, too | Tobias Schwarz/Getty Images

Employment lawyer Lisa Guerin reports that many people believe that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects their right to say anything that they want, online or offline. But that’s an incorrect assumption. The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging your freedom of speech, but it doesn’t protect you from private companies. Guerin notes, “Within limits, the government may not tell us what we can or can’t say; no such restriction applies to private employers.”

While the First Amendment may not protect you, Guerin reports that there are a number of other laws that “limit an employer’s right to discipline or fire employees for what they post online.” The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to communicate with each other about the terms and conditions of their employment. Some states have off-duty conduct laws that prohibit employers from disciplining employees for what they do on their own time (as long as those activities are legal). Other states protect employees from discipline based on their political beliefs or activities. And a variety of federal and state laws protect employees from retaliation for reporting problems like discrimination, harassment, or unsafe working conditions. 

2. Problem: Underestimating your employer’s willingness to try to control what you say online

Solution: Realize that many employers want to control their employees’ speech online

Facebook Like button

Your company may be trying to control what you say on Facebook | Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Josh Eidelson reported for Slate a few years ago that while many employees would assume that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would protect their ability to post about their employer on social networks like Facebook, “business groups are hoping that the NLRB will make it easier for employers to control that speech.” According to Eidelson, “Employees who don’t work for the government and aren’t in a union can be fired or punished for almost anything they say, wherever they say it. Business groups say companies need the authority to put the best person in the job and to shuffle as they deem necessary.”

The National Labor Relations Act protects the employees’ right to engage in “concerted activities” for “mutual aid or protection.” But employers still discipline or terminate employees for the posts shared on Facebook. Eidelson notes that “concerted activity remains a relatively narrow category.” He adds that unfortunately, “Workers’ rights to collective action often conflict with owners’ desires to control their corporate image. But the former is enshrined in law; the latter isn’t.” Valid complaints about your workplace may be protected, but complaining that your boss is a jerk probably isn’t.

3. Problem: Assuming that your employer isn’t watching what you’re doing online

Solution: Realize that your employer is watching what you do — and that you should, too

Facebook screen on a laptop

Your employer may be spying on you | Ted Aljibe/GettyImages

It’s no secret that employers don’t want their employees wasting time and Facebooking on the job. But lots of people assume that their company isn’t paying attention to what they’re doing online. However, as The Week reports, your employer is spying on you. If you work on an office computer, your employer can monitor your browser history. It can also log keystrokes to keep tabs on your productivity and to see what you type on private services, including Facebook. “Privacy in today’s workplace is largely illusory,” says Ellen Bayer of the American Management Association to the publication.

Realize that your employer is watching what you do online, and that you should, too. Your employer wants to make sure that you’re being productive. So if you’re spending lots of time on Facebook during the workday, that’s a big red flag. Some companies also search for evidence that their employees are thinking of quitting (so it’s not a good idea to make your job hunting or networking efforts obvious on your Facebook profile). Whatever you’re doing online at the office, assume that your employer is watching. 

4. Problem: Becoming Facebook friends with all your colleagues and managers

Solution: Be selective about whom you friend

A sign points to the Berlin Facebook offices

You should choose your Facebook friends carefully | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Social media etiquette gets sticky. After all, you’re probably here because you’re worried about what you can post without worrying about your job. When it comes to accepting friend requests from colleagues and managers with whom you’ve genuinely hit it off, it can seem pretty harmless. But accepting those friend requests may not be a great idea. Suzana Flores, author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, tells CNBC that you should be cautious about whether to friend your co-workers on Facebook.

She also advises that you shouldn’t “friend” your managers online at all. And you’ll want to make sure that you have your Facebook privacy settings locked down. Still, Flores warns that “privacy on social media networks is an illusion.” She adds that “people are treating these platforms like their personal diaries, venting about work or other problems. Or they want people to have their backs, and it’s normal for people to seek validation, but it’s the public nature of these sites that gets them in trouble.”

5. Problem: Assuming your employer will never see your comments online

Solution: Refrain from making offensive comments

Facebook headquaters

Making offensive comments on Facebook can get you into hot water with your employer | Stephen Lam/Getty Images

It’s never a good idea to post racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise offensive or inflammatory comments online. Even when you make those comments on your personal Facebook account, your posts can get shared far beyond the intended audience. They can end up causing problems that are very visible to your boss, and that can have major consequences for your career. It may seem unfair that you can lose your job by expressing your views or making a joke. But like it or not, your behavior online is associated with your employer. And in some ways, you represent your company online.

A racist joke or a homophobic rant reflects poorly on your employer’s hiring decisions and on the diversity of your workplace. It’s in your employer’s best interest to make sure that everyone is behaving respectfully so that they don’t alienate customers. If you want to keep your job, avoid making jokes and comments that would offend your boss or your clients. If you’re in a job like teaching, you may even want to refrain from posting photos of yourself drinking, since that can look like poor judgment. 

6. Problem: Posting confidential information about your workplace

Solution: Think before you post

A big logo created from pictures of Facebook users worldwide is pictured in the company's Data Center

Don’t post any confidential info about your employer on social media | Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images

It’s clear that making injudicious comments or Facebooking during work hours can cost you your job. But so can the choice to post confidential information about your workplace. You shouldn’t share news about what’s going on at your workplace, whether it’s good or bad. And you shouldn’t make disparaging comments about your employer’s partners or clients.

So where’s the line between the information you can post, and the posts that cross the line? There’s no hard and fast rule. But if you can envision the information you’re sharing hurting your employer, giving your company’s rivals an inside look at what’s going on, or tarnishing the good image that your company maintains, then you should think twice before posting.