I am writing to you today to discuss a rapidly growing issue of concern – proper conduct for employees online. This article might be more aptly titled: “don’t let social media get you sacked,” because I want people to be knowledgeable about all online conduct, not just Facebook!
Your first thought might be: “Hey! What I do online, from the privacy of my own home shouldn’t impact my employment.” But you would, unfortunately, be wrong. The courts have ruled that as a public employee (which community college employees are) you have a right to limited free speech. This means that the college can limit your free speech rights, online and anywhere else, by virtue of you being their employee. While they cannot limit when you speak as a citizen on a matter of public concern, they can limit (read: discipline) you in other forums. This is why you can participate in a union rally for collective bargaining rights without reprisal, but you can get written up for posting how stupid a certain VP is on your blog!
Local 1600 Grievance Chair Chuck Mustari stated that one should “keep in mind when you’re on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites: if what you put online was displayed or read out loud at the college’s Board of Trustees meeting, would you be ashamed? Then, JUST DON’T DO IT!” Members should also be aware that there are reports that employers are actively monitoring social media sites for employees’ commentary. People have been reprimanded or terminated for complaining about their clientele, posing online holding alcoholic beverages, attempting to “friend” attractive students at their college, joking that they were addicted to drugs, and disclosing confidential information “anonymously.”
Some additional do’s and don’ts are:
- DO check your privacy settings frequently & leave them set to the most restricted access settings;
- DO make sure your profile picture is acceptably neutral because that picture is searchable (so that photo of you passed out drunk on your 40th birthday, while amusing, is not appropriate);
- DO be cautious about who you “friend” (no supervisors or students on your personal page). Mustari even recommends having 2 Facebook pages – one for personal use & one for professional use;
- DON’T gripe about your employer and/or co-workers by name;
- DON’T post anything sexually explicit, racially offensive, anti-Semitic, or that references your use of alcohol or drugs;
- DON’T forget that the internet isn’t nearly as anonymous as people like to think.
Remember, what is uploaded online in a millisecond will last for a lifetime!