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More employees at risk of being punished for social media use

Social media has certainly had an effect on employment law issues over the past few years as more individuals use social media websites on a daily basis for personal and professional purposes. Celebrities and professional athletes have lost contracts as a result of their comments on Facebook and Twitter, and lawsuits have been filed by employees who have lost their jobs or been denied jobs as a result of what employers discovered on these social media sites. But can employees and potential employees in California and throughout the entire U.S. be disciplined or fired for their "private" comments on social media sites?

A recent worldwide study by DLA Piper Shift revealed that 30 percent of the employers surveyed had used disciplinary actions against employees, including firing employees, for their activities on social media sites. With the average American spending about 16 hours a month on Facebook, and approximately half of them visiting the site every day, more workers could be at risk of losing their jobs over the use of social media.

In order to make sure that one's rights are protected as an employee, workers can take certain precautions to avoid losing their jobs or being denied jobs as a result of social media use. These precautions include making use of privacy features on Facebook to limit who can see posted comments, pictures and other information, as well as limiting who one is friends with on Facebook.

Employees should also refrain from placing blind trust in any promise of privacy from Facebook, as Facebook has altered privacy controls in the past, and may do so again in the future. It may be better simply not to post something which, if made public, could mean the end of one's employment. Employees should also realize that private messages on social media sites may be discoverable in court proceedings when they are related to the workplace.

Some employers may have a social media policy in place, which should be read by every employee so that they are familiar with what sort of activity on social media sites is allowed or prohibited by employers.

Employees should also keep in mind that there have been times when employers have overstepped their boundaries by wrongfully disciplining or terminating employees over the use of social media. In these cases, employees aggrieved by such actions always have the option of consulting with an attorney to see whether they might have a legal claim for wrongful termination.

Source: SmartBlog, "4 tips for avoiding getting fired for Facebook," Jessica Miller-Merrell, Jan. 13, 2012