Can You Be Fired for Your Political Posts on Social Media?

In November 2017, Juli Briskman, a 50-year-old marketing executive at Akima LLC, a government contracting firm, was photographed flipping off President Trump’s motorcade from a bike.  The photo quickly went viral, making it impossible to retract, and Akima LLC forced Ms. Briskman to resign on the grounds that her gesture in the photo violated Akima’s “social media policy ban on ‘obscene content.’”  Specifically, Akima’s policy provides that “Covered Social Media Activity that contains discriminatory, obscene malicious or threatening content, is knowingly false, creates a hostile work environment, or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and will be subject to discipline up to an including termination of employment.”

And now, the latest question in the world of never-ending social media sharing—what are the consequences of posting your political opinions on social media?

Here is what you need to know about your social media rights:

1. You HAVE protected rights on social media platforms

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Board, declares that both union and nonunion workers “have the right to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with coworkers on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media.”  The courts have upheld this right as long as the statement has a larger, transformative purpose for your workplace.  For example, when a Chipotle employee took to Twitter to gripe about the company’s pay and inclement weather policies, despite Chipotle’s requests that the employee delete and/or remove the posts, the judge ruled that the employee did not have to take them down because they were for the mutual aid and protection of employees because they concerned the workplace of employees’ interests.

2. However, those rights can be limited by your employer

While you do indeed have protected rights on social media platforms, employers can limit those rights.  As reported by Refinery 29, an American digital media and entertainment company, research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates that while only 24% of organizations have a formal policy on “political activities,” approximately 30% of organizations have a formal policy.  Additionally, government organizations are more likely to have written policies regarding employee’s political activities.  Because less than half of the organizations specify what types of political activities are covered by the policy, it is better to err on the safe side and restrain from posting.

So, what does this mean for you? Hutcherson Law recommends double checking your employer’s social media policy either by reviewing the written expectations or speaking to your human resources manager or boss.  And if you are an at-will employee, which means that you can be fired at any time, then there is an additional reason to exercise caution before posting a political post.  As a rule of thumb, while you do have the right to post your political opinions online it is usually better to avoid using social media to retaliate against others, and to keep your posts honest, accurate, and respectful.

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