Fired for a Facebook Joke … Again

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Last week we wrote about a possible new trend where companies require their employees to avoid any online mention of the organization. And before that, we (and everyone else) explained why you need to be careful about your online behavior and how you can keep your reputation professional. Even if you blog or post on Twitter at home, your words are open for everyone — including employers past, present and future — to see.

You know this. We know this. Hopefully everyone on any social media site understands this.

However, a social media misstep in Wisconsin has raised some questions about the definition of acceptable online behavior. According to Courthouse News Service, a police and fire department dispatcher posted a joke about being addicted to illegal and prescription drugs on her Facebook page. After the comment she wrote “ha,” indicating it was a joke. The city didn’t find it funny and fired her, even though her drug test proved she didn’t actually take these substances. A city arbitrator said the city needed to allow her back after a 30-day suspension.

According to the city:

“Making stupid jokes on Facebook where the line between public and private communications is admittedly blurred, calls into question that good judgment and common sense of the grievant and her resulting ability to perform her job.”

The arbitrator acknowledges the dispatcher didn’t use her best judgment, but doesn’t think she should be fired. The city persists that she is damaging to their brand.

Now, we’ve heard of people getting fired for many things. Heck, even the SF Weekly blogpoints out that there’s a Facebook page where people post news stories about employees fired due to bad online behavior. (Granted, a Facebook page exists for everything these days, its mere existence isn’t shocking.) But normally termination comes from obvious blunders, such as divulging confidential information, posting inappropriate pictures or badmouthing the company. But now it’s happening due to jokes that are obviously jokes. Think of it as Getting Fired 2.0.

But it still raises some new questions:

  • Would this issue even be in question if it was directed at a person via an offensive comment? After all, offensive jokes are obviously jokes, but they’re still unacceptable and lead to noncontroversial firings all the time.
  • Will this situation affect how you behave online, even on your own time?
  • Could employees and employers avoid these situations if they started using the social media contracts we discussed last year? Or do you think that’s just setting everyone up for too many rules and regulations and ruining social media?

Let us know about your thoughts on the situation and if you’ve encountered anything like this.

51 Comments
  1. This is why I have my Facebook so locked down that hardly anyone can see anything. Only my closest of friends can see my wall posts.

  2. While some reasons for firing or suspending an employee can be downright outrageous, what is growing ever more apparent is that the impact your online persona (in a social network) has on your work and your personal life can no longer be considered separate or off limits.

    Today’s employers and HR Managers will consider them one and the same; and because your profile(s) are publicly available, they will be subject to scrutiny whether we like it or not…and whether or not we are on the clock. Many people will find this unfair or uncalled for…but the bottom line is that all people have to take responsibility for what they post…even if it is a joke. It’s all fun and games until you find yourself called into your boss’s office about a picture you posted of yourself in Tijuana.

    The new rule of thumb for this is: when in doubt, don’t post it. It will probably save you a lot of grief in the future.

    Karen F., The Resume Chick (on Google)

    • To: Karen F., The Resume Chick (on Google)

      So what you are telling me is that I have lost my right to free speech just because my boss may see something I put on Facebook and not like it? Seems to me that these companies need to keep their control out of our peersonal lives. They have no right to use a personal blog for an excuse to fire someone. If I tell a joke on Facebook, it is no one in my company’s business what i say. Yes, they have a right to expect professionalism out of me at work, but if I am not at work, they have absolutely no right to listen into anything I say. This is just another form of thought control and the taking away of our right to free speech. If the boss can’t handle a joke or an opinion, i would say that that particular boss should be the one fired, not the person using their free speech, as the boss obviously has issues that would keep them from being fair.

  3. Pingback: Fired for a Facebok Joke … Again « Sales and Marketing Jobs

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  7. This is lame. But, this door swings both ways in that Companies are more than welcome to make pages for themselves and post their own stupid jokes on behalf of their employees.

  8. Facebook has always been there to share with your friends and friends of friends , and new friends you make on line. It is where you share jokes ,pictures, thoughts and experiances ,and many people play games. So now your telling me that something I share with my freinds ,a game I my be playing with friends,or a picture I may be showing my friends may get me fired.what happend to freedom of speach. My personal time with people on line should have nothing to do with my employment, they are two differant issuses. Elizabeth

  9. I haven’t ever gotten in trouble for anything on my facebook page (but I also have it as private as possible, with a strict restriction to no work people), but I did get in trouble once for an email I sent, off work hours from my personal account, to a previous co-worker’s personal account (who no longer worked there) that she decided to send to my supervisor. Although I told them I didn’t feel it was any of their business, they apparently thought differently. So beware.

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  19. Maybe there should be an option for users to require viewers to agree to terms that explicitly states that the viewer cannot not use any information obtained from the viewed profile against that user. This should be supported by Facebook, and even Myspace. It is not as simple as just adding an app to user’s profile, but must also be legally sound. That is where the attorneys come into play.

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  37. The big thing here is – that this door doesn’t swing both ways.
    What the Company does will always slide by without a problem; while, if you were to do exactly the same thing – that will and does – get you fired.
    The reason being is that there is no way a Company can get the same criticism – from anyone – that an individual does, and if there were any large scale negative publicity from a Company release – then the individual that released it (and possibly their supervisor/manager) would be the only casualties – fired for it. ie, they should have known better than to do such a bad thing, tsk tsk tsk. No matter who above them approved it – Companies always have fall guys – individuals don’t.

    • It never ceases to amaze me how often people feel they have the right to publicly badmouth, criticize or poke fun at the people who sign their paychecks or anyone else with whom they must work in their employer’s place of business on a daily basis. They consider the web a private place?? And how in the world can you consider communicants on the web, whom you have never met, as friends is beyond my comprehension. You communicate with real friends face to face or on the telephone, in private, not in an international forum–that way you know your beef about anyone or anything is only for your friends’ ears, and not for someone in, say, Mozambique! Cheeez. How stupid can people get. Neither the web, nor Facebook, nor Twitter, etc. would give anyone an expectation of privacy.

    • I have had no posts from employers on my website, just companies themselves. BUT….. if you want to keep something that ” might ” mean a lot to you, ( i wont say more than personal friends ) keeping your job might come first, then post what you want. What are you hiding, anyway !

    • The thing about social networks is that what you do there IS you. Another side of you, maybe. If you were a bank robber off the clock but a perfect employee on the clock, do you thing the bank that employed you would say- “Oh well. Who cares what he does in his free time.” No, of course not. What you do during your personal time is still you. And if an employer is looking for a certain type of employee, but your Facebook page shows that you are a different person online, your employer is going to wonder- which is the real you, the Facebook you or the employee you? So if an employer sees something they do not like on your Facebook, they are going to want to consider it before they hire you. PS- I remember a time when if you disrespected your boos- you would get canned. They pay you to work, they have a right to expect employees to adhere to common sense rules and behavior. Do you think it would be tolerated if you stood in front of your place of work and ranted about how bad your company is? Putting on Facebook for a million people to see is the same thing. Really. Don’t post anything on Facebook that you would not want to shout from Times Square in from of every person you know. OK????

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  43. Does it matter? The company pays us, we work for them and they pay our salary, not the other way around. If you want to talk trash about them on the outside, what else can you expect? If you aren’t happy, leave. If you feel the need to trash your employer, don’t do it in public! This isn’t rocket science.

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  47. What you say and what you do always matters , always , wether it is thought to be public or private .You never know who will hear or see all or part of it , and it will effect them and you because thats how it is wether we like it or not .

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