The digital age has rapidly ushered in a complicated array of employment law questions. Do hiring managers have a right to judge job applicants based on their Facebook profiles? Can they go so far as to ask applicants for their social media passwords? Can workers be fired for sending personal emails or Tweets during working hours? Can an employee be retaliated against for gossiping or venting about his or her co-workers or supervisor online?
State and federal judges and lawmakers are grappling with these questions and more in an effort to understand how to apply employment and privacy laws, which were written before the days of social media, to these issues. In some cases, states are even deciding to write new laws to determine these answers. A case recently emerged here in Texas that involved a woman being fired over things she posted to her personal Facebook page.
The woman was a helicopter paramedic in Fort Worth, Texas, who reportedly posted on Facebook that she was becoming so upset with a disorderly patient that she wanted to slap her. A compliance officer with the employer learned about the post and used Facebook to warn the worker by sending her a message that employees can be fired for posting such things.
Instead of heading the warning, the paramedic argued a bit with the compliance officer through Facebook messages, and then proceeded to post another related complaint onto her Facebook profile.
The company's CEO was then notified and the paramedic was fired for being "unprofessional and insubordinate" to the compliance officer, according to a report by Courthouse News.
The woman sued the company for unlawful termination as well as invasion of privacy. She maintained that she was not fired for the Facebook posting but for blowing the whistle on a co-worker who was performing medical procedures for which he or she was not certified.
The court ruled in favor of the employer, and on appeal a higher court stated that the worker did not provide enough evidence to support the invasion of privacy claims. The former paramedic had not appealed the wrongful termination claim.
Although this woman lost her case, Texas employers are often in the wrong when they fire employees for their Facebook use. Anyone who has been fired due to social media issues is wise to seek legal counsel to learn whether his or her employer can be held accountable for wrongful termination.
Source: Courthouse News, "Medic Properly Fired for Work Rant on Facebook," David Lee, Oct. 8, 2012
- Our firm handles cases like the one discussed here. To learn more, visit our San Antonio Wrongful Termination page.