Tempted to vent about work online? You could get fired

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- A single sentence posted on Facebook changed Amy McClenathan’s life forever.

“It was a very small sentence, but it was one of the most powerful sentences I’ve ever typed in my life,” she said.
McClenathan says she was having a rough day near the one year anniversary of her mother’s death. She says she was not in the mood to be at work that day.
“I posted, ‘I wish I could get fired some days, it would be easier to be at home than to have to go through this,’” she said.
McCleanthan says she was fired the next day by the title company she worked for because of her social media post, and she is hardly alone.
In 2010, former Arizona Daily Star reporter Brian Pedersen was fired for Tweeting about a wave of homicides in Tucson.
Pedersen, who worked at the newspaper for 11 years, describes the posts as sarcastic in nature. He says the killings became so regular that local police officers referred to Fridays as “homicide Fridays.”
“I was saying, ‘WTF! No overnight homicides? You’re slacking Tucson,’” Pedersen said.
Another Tweet read “You stay homicidal, Tucson. See Star Net for the bloody deets.”
Pedersen says he has a sarcastic sense of humor, that he never posted about a specific crime, and that he made the posts as a way to deal with the horror around him.
“For humor, sarcasm, kind of lighten the mood, I guess,” he said.
Pedersen said he had been reprimanded once before for Tweeting about work conditions.
“Things like the building being too cold,” he said.
Pedersen took his case involving the homicide Tweets to the National Labor Relation’s Board, which ultimately ruled that the newspaper was justified in firing him. The Arizona Daily Star had no comment on the story, other than to say the ruling speaks for itself.
Pedersen’s story is outlined in one of a series of reports recently issued by the National Labor Relations board regarding social media and the workplace.
Despite stories like those of McClenathan and Pedersen, the reports make it clear that employees do have the right to complain about working conditions on social media.
“If the employer reprimands you for discussing your job on Facebook, that can run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act,” said Phoenix attorney Dan Barr.
Barr says the difference between what constitutes protected social media speech about the workplace and what does not, rests on what can be considered concerted activity.
“If you were to post on Facebook, I work for a bunch of crooks or company X is the worst place in the world to work, that would not be protected,” Barr said. “If you post on Facebook I was cheated out of a bonus or that I’m working too many hours and other employees respond and you get a conversation started about that, that counts.”
In other words, if co-workers or former co-workers are involved, and the post involves issues related to employment, the post is probably protected.
Still, McClenathan recommends never posting anything about work on social media.  She says she has been blacklisted from her industry and has been unable to get full time work since her firing.
“Don’t put it on social media. It never goes away and it can ruin your life,” she said.