You may love your job but hate your boss, or love your boss but hate your pay or working conditions – or maybe you don’t care for any of them.
How much leeway, however, do you have to take to an online forum and exercise your freedom of speech about the situation, whether that’s on Facebook, Reddit or TikTok? The answer depends on your situation. Here’s what you need to remember:
Freedom of speech doesn’t equal freedom of consequences
Generally speaking, California is an at-will employment state, which means that your employer can fire you for any reason that isn’t discriminatory against a protected class or activity.
Even if you have a contract that says you can only be fired for cause, your social media activity can lead to termination. Many contracts have morality clauses in them that allow employers to enforce their own code of conduct, even over things that employees say, do or post online that have nothing to do with work. These are legal because you freely make that contract when you’re hired on. For example, one woman posted a racist tweet on Twitter just moments before she boarded a plane to Africa and found herself unemployed about the time she landed.
This means that, yes, your employer really can fire you for what you post on social media – most of the time. Per the National Labor Relations Board, you do have the right to engage in “concerted activities” when you and other employees are acting to help each other. If you’re posting online to other employees in order to express group complaints or gather more information about your pay, the hours, mistreatment by management or working conditions, that’s your right – but you need to be careful to be truthful and factual.
The line between your freedom of speech and your employer’s freedom to end their relationship with you can be very thin, so it is generally wisest to use caution when posting online about your workplace. If you believe you were unlawfully fired for protesting about your working conditions, however, it’s best to get legal guidance.