Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We Haven't Figured out How to Be Ourselves on Social Media without Job Risk

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We Haven't Figured out How to Be Ourselves on Social Media without Job Risk

Article excerpt

Following a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last fall at least four people lost their jobs and several more were under scrutiny for their participation in the rally after social media users began publishing their identities.

Paula Brantner, a senior adviser at Workplace Fairness, a Silver Spring, Md.-based nonprofit that provides legal information to workers about their rights, said the group's website saw a surge of visitors after the Charlottesville rally. The site had 3.5 million visitors in 2017.

"As tensions rise about the future of our country, people are feeling that it is important, now more than ever, to engage in political discourse and action," Ms. Brantner said. "But what does that mean for your job? Workers may be protected from discrimination in some cases, but may also risk being fired by a private employer who simply doesn't agree with their political views."

When it comes to expressing opinions that others may find offensive, many workers have found out the hard way that social media can be risky.

"The reality is that professionals can absolutely lose their jobs due to inappropriate comments on social media, but what happens far more often is that a candidate who's applying for a job is taken out of consideration because of their unflattering social media presence," said Cassandra Adams, division director of the Pittsburgh branch of Robert Half staffing agency.

With more than 2 billion users worldwide on Facebook, 467 million on LinkedIn and 330 million on Twitter, the internet has become a work and social haven. We "friend," we "connect," we "tweet" and we update - all under the guise of staying in touch with friends, family, clients and prospects.

"Yet despite the explosion of social media users, normative behaviors have not yet clearly been established in the law or between employers and employees as to what social media is acceptable and not," said Beth Slagle, an attorney at the Downtown-based law firm Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, where she specializes in advising companies on employment law.

She said employees are left wondering whether their social media activity is private or protected, while employers struggle with whether they can seek social media passwords to do background checks. They also worry about leaks of confidential information and breaches of non-competition agreements.

Ms. Slagle said the law is slowly evolving so that employees and employers have a better understanding of social media expectations. "But with the ease and frequency with which we use social media, it's easy to see how a few keystrokes can breach an agreement. …

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