Hiring experts almost unanimously caution against posting strong political views on social media if you’re in the market for a new job. Because hiring managers are people too, political posts or even being a vocal fan of the “wrong” sports team could cause someone to look askew at your application. One never knows, which is why people tend to err on the side of caution when on the front end of the hiring process. But what happens once you’ve gotten the job, you finally let your hair down, and become your *real* self? If you start speaking your mind on social media, what, if anything, can your employer do about it?
First the Good News
It is your right and privilege in this country to speak out, especially about politics. Your memes, retweets, likes, and Facebook posts-turned-thinkpieces are all protected, no matter if you want to “Make America Great Again” or if he’s #notyourpresident, thanks in large part to Reno vs. ACLU in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that speech on the internet is entitled to full First Amendment protection. Practically, that means you can share your political views without fear of being fired or disciplined, as long as you don’t engage in hate-speech or use offensive, vulgar or violent language. Actually, although you shouldn’t get fired for these kinds of things, you still might, and if you are, it’s really hard to prove that you were fired for unlawful reasons. #Sad.
Now the Bad News
The rules granting you leeway to speak out don’t apply to most private companies, which can fire you for any reason whatsoever, especially if you work for a private company without a union or are employed in a “right to work” state. You could be considered an “at will” employee and be fired for any reason that isn’t prohibited by law. For instance, while you can’t be fired for exercising your rights per se, you may have to start packing your cubicle for another, related reason such as casting the employer in a negative light or for impermissible use of social media during working hours. Ultimately, whether an employee should be terminated based on a comment on social media really depends on the severity and context in which the comment was made.
But There’s Still Hope
If you’re lucky enough to work for a company whose culture and leadership share your political leanings, you probably don’t have much to worry about. And while there’s no federal law which specifically forbids retaliation against employees who talk politics, if you’re fortunate enough to work in New York you’ll be pleased to know the state’s “off-duty conduct” law prohibits discrimination based on employees’ political or recreational activities, including campaigning for candidates or participating in political fundraising activities. New York is also one of the states working to protect your social media privacy. Indeed, 25 states have enacted laws that pertain to social media and employers. Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures to learn whether your social media rights are protected where you live.
Bottom line, before embarking on your next tweet storm you should assess your workplace culture, know your employer’s social media policy, and review relevant state laws. Also take into account your personal tolerance for risk, balancing how you might fare if you lost your job with the importance of expressing your views online.