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Expressing yourself on Facebook could endanger your job

Can Facebook comments get you fired? Employees in San Diego and around the country are advised to be careful when they use social media, just in case bosses or colleagues are sneaking a peek at their activity. Laws can sometimes protect private sector workers from prying employers, but legal advisors still urge caution in order to avoid being fired.

To better define what employers expect of employees, many companies are devising internal policies and job contracts that limit what workers can do and say online. But an employer could still be sued for discrimination and wrongful termination if company actions clearly violate workers' rights.

Courts are also weighing in on this issue and even considering whether something as seemingly minor as a Facebook "like" could be grounds for firing an employee if the employee's actions could have an impact on co-workers or a company's image.

State laws can help shield off-duty workers from employer backlash, as long as what is being done off the clock is legal. Public employees are most often protected by First Amendment rights, while private sector workers are supported by the National Labor Relations Act.

Many businesses are considering or already have employment contracts and work policies that outline social media rules. In those handbooks and signed agreements are penalties, including termination, if an employee crosses the line. To avoid posting something online that could get one fired, employees should be aware of these work policies.

Additionally, employees should be aware that employers are not the only ones policing workers' Internet activities. Employees are also turning in colleagues for Facebook posts.

Facebook and other sites like it encourage free expression. While users can adjust privacy settings to a degree, many social network enthusiasts forget how easy it is for the public to access a personal comment, see a "like," or a photo. A few clicks can transfer a work-related complaint into the hands of a co-worker or an employer.

Public information is accessible. If co-workers and employers find comments or images they don't like on an employee's Facebook page, the repercussions can lead to a workplace reprimand and even the loss of a job.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Your social-media posts could get you in hot water," Ruth Mantell, June 4, 2012