Tweeting isn’t 9-to-5

Being off the clock doesn’t always protect a worker from disciplinary action if his boss doesn’t approve of his social media commentary

This story was first published in the March 23 issue of The Sunday.


It used to be a challenge just to balance personal and professional life.

Now it’s about balancing different Twitters accounts. Laura Woods, a marketing blogger, recently took to the Social Media Strategies Summit Blog to share some tips. Here’s what she had to say:

• Create Facebook-friend boundaries: Don’t feel like you have to be friends with your boss or co-workers. You might want to create a Facebook “fan page,” a separate forum where you can share professional updates instead of personal ones.

• Be honest about separate accounts: Make sure people know you have two accounts so they don’t think you’re hiding something.

• Stay positive: Avoid posting negative items to social media — because being a downer is such a turn-off.

• Avoid sensitive topics: Avoiding talking politics and religion. Avoid talking badly about clients, companies and co-workers.

It’s the new workplace commandment: Thou shall not Tweet without using common sense.

And here’s the reason: Social media have all but replaced email in reaching out to current and would-be customers, co-workers and bosses. You can now transmit a message to the world versus contain it to a specific message group.

So you’d better be careful because once you hit the “post” button, there’s no mulligan.

And if you go off the rails and use social media as a means to complain about company politics, disparage management or insult competitors, you’re going to swallow hard when you get blasted by the blowback.

That’s true whether you’re on the clock or not.

“Even off-duty conduct is going to get you in trouble,” said Andrew Rempfer, a Las Vegas-based attorney with Cogburn Law who specializes in employment law and commercial litigation.

That’s why discussing the proper use of social media is slowly but surely joining the ranks of the sexual harassment talk, the benefits talk and the dress code talk that employers have their workers sit through.

The Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics in 2011 surveyed business professionals to track how companies have responded to the explosion of social media.

The finding: 42 percent of respondents had disciplined an employee for bad behavior on sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — up from 24 percent in 2009.

Though many of the surveyed companies doled out punishment for ill-fated remarks or posts on social media, only about one-third of them had crafted social media policies to dictate how employees should use such platforms both outside the office and on the clock.


Adam Amar learned a lot when he lost his job for spending too much time on Facebook.

The 28-year-old marketing professional had landed a job with a Las Vegas production company right out of college and took over the company’s social media sites. The job required him to update the Facebook accounts attached to several productions. That meant he had to spend a lot of time on the Web, following social media. His bosses thought it was too much time, and they fired him.

“They had no idea about the Internet,” said Amar, who is now digital media director at Walker Furniture. He said the greatest lesson he learned as a social media professional was the importance of having a clear-cut policy. “You have to fully explain social media to employees.”

Many organizations have gone to great lengths to make their social media message clear.

Some guidelines might seem obvious, such as this Air Force instruction to airmen: “You are personally responsible for what you say and post on social networking services. Don’t post classified, sensitive or For Official Use Only information (for example, troop movement, force size, weapons details, etc.).”

Clark County’s social media policy prohibits posting profane or sexual language or content, soliciting business and sharing information that could compromise the safety or security of the public.


Let’s face it: Anything posted Facebook and Twitter is public.

Even though social media users can make their profiles “private” — or “protected” — and visible to a select group of people, it’s quite easy for information to leak into the public sphere.

That’s because there’s no telling how willing followers or friends might be to share the information you’ve posted. All computers have the capability of taking screenshots (snapping photographs of what’s on the screen).

Such images have become the centerpiece of numerous tabloid news articles about wacky celebrity woes and opinions.

That’s why employees must be leery of sharing their opinions on social media sites.

“Don’t say anything bad about anyone (on social media), just like your mom always said,” Rempfer said.

Indeed, companies fire employees for bad-mouthing co-workers or company policies. And employers often view personal gripe sessions via social media as an attempt to hurt business.

On the other hand, employees are protected by law in certain cases when it comes to airing complaints via social media: the National Labor Relations Act says employees can’t be punished if they engage in a concerted activity — like griping in large numbers.

Employees also should be careful about when they post items to social media.

Companies often cross-reference sick days to activity on social networks to make sure employees were sick when they said they were sick. Social media have helped win court cases for employers for that very reason.

And it’s easy to do: Facebook and Twitter log the exact date and time of posts.

Legal experts say trouble is also easy avoid. “Use common sense,” Rempfer said.


Sometimes employees make the mistake of trying to be funny in an inappropriate manner.

Justine Sacco, a former PR executive, made the news in December 2013 when she tweeted about taking a trip to Africa:

“Going to Africa,” she tweeted. “Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!”

While on the plane to Africa, outraged Twitter users made parody accounts mocking Sacco and pointed out old questionable tweets, like this one: “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?”

Sacco’s company at the time, IAC, fired her.

Social media experts say Sacco’s folly is a prime example of how social media can haunt a career.

“Think: Is it something you want to be held accountable for the rest of your life?” Amar said.

Sometimes average social media users suffer the consequences of posts they did not make.

The Miami Herald recently reported on the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s decision to toss an $80,000 discrimination settlement between Gulliver Preparatory School and its former headmaster, Patrick Snay.

The court ruled the former employee and his daughter breached a confidentiality agreement when the teen bragged about her father’s win on Facebook.

“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver,” Dana Snay posted to 1,200 Facebook friends days after the win, the Herald reported. “Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.”

The school’s attorneys jumped all over the opportunity, and a judge overturned the settlement days later.


The advent of social media has undoubtedly strained productivity in the workplace.

That’s why companies are working harder to monitor and control employee online activity at and outside of work.

Companies often monitor less productive employees to make sure they’re doing their job. But it’s a slippery campaign — because monitoring can be illegal under certain circumstances.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval recently signed Assembly Bill 181, making Nevada the 11th state to limit employer access to employees’ and applicants’ social media information.

The law prohibits employers from requiring or requesting that an employee disclose usernames, passwords or other information needed to access his or her social media accounts.

Here’s a look at some of the methods employers might use to monitor employees in other ways and how they may or may not be legal:

• Video: We see them everywhere — rectangle-shaped boxes anchored in the corners of stores, panning left and right with a blinking red light, or the half sphere sticking from the ceiling.

They’re there for one reason: to watch you. What you might not know is there are rules to running video surveillance on employees.

If a company wants to use video surveillance, the cameras can’t record sound. With a soundless camera, employers still have to avoid recording employees in areas where there’s a clear expectation of privacy: bathrooms and dressing rooms.

Management consultants suggest letting employees know when — and where — cameras will be rolling.

• Telephone: It’s illegal for employers to use electronic recording devices to monitor employee phone calls. But there are two exceptions to the rule:

Bosses can monitor calls with permission of employees.

Employers can also record phone conversations if they meet two requirements. First, monitoring equipment must be provided by the phone company, and second, the call must be solely connected to business.

We often hear this when talking to customer service representatives: “This call may be recorded for quality assurance.”

If a boss is recording a phone call and realizes it’s a personal call, he or she must immediately stop recording.

• Email: Courts have generally supported employers’ rights to read employee email — as long as the company owns the email server and has a valid reason to snoop around.

Companies often monitor email when trade secrets are at stake or an employee is embroiled in a sexual harassment claim.

The monitoring can’t include email through servers such as Gmail and Yahoo.

Companies can also save themselves headaches by crafting a policy that details intentions and methods behind monitoring employee activity.