You Can Complain About Work On Facebook — But You Shouldn’t

At one of my first jobs, back in the early days of social media, the company I worked for had a pretty strict Facebook policy. When my boss explained it to my team, she recommended that we never mention work in our posts. She said that even something as seemingly harmless as “Looking forward to this glass of wine after a long day at the office!” could have professional consequences.

I was afraid to post on Facebook for years. But, a new report on workplace social media policies by the National Labor Relations Board reveals that legally, employers can’t fire anyone for posting about work on social media — and specific kinds of complaints are actually protected by law, no matter your employer’s policy.
Photographed by Phoebe Chuason.
“When an employee or group of employees are speaking on social media collectively about work and conditions at work, they have a right to engage in that activity according to the NLRB,” says Michael Schmidt, vice chair of the Labor & Employment Department at Cozen O’Connor and editor of the Social Media Employment Law Blog. The NLRB considers that kind of action — connecting with your fellow employees on social media to discuss working conditions — a “protected, concerted activity.” 

However, that doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want online without consequences. “Generally, if someone is posting a gripe about their own work situation with no intent to get other workers involved, that’s not protected, and an employer can take action against it,” Schmidt says.

So, yes, legally you can take some work complaints to Facebook or Twitter and not get fired. But, should you? “It is not a good idea to discuss your work or your boss unless what you say is flattering and cannot be misconstrued as a critique,” says Miriam Salpeter, the author of Social Networking for Career Success. Salpeter says a good rule of thumb is to think about your future employers reading whatever you write before you post. Would it give them pause before hiring you? And, think twice even if you want to write something you think is ambiguously negative, she says. “Tone is hard to gauge in social media. It's more important what people think you said or posted than what you actually said or posted.”

Salpeter recommends getting the grumble out of your system privately. “Talk to your dog or cat! You know he or she will never gossip,” she says. “Another strategy is to write a note or email to get out your frustrations, but never send it.” 

What's a healthier way of posting on social media? Use it to your professional advantage. “Just as you can lose...an opportunity by writing something inappropriate online, you can just as easily use social media to expand your network, demonstrate your expertise, learn new things, and attract jobs or other opportunities,” says Salpeter. So, do something productive like updating your LinkedIn profile instead of tweeting about how ridiculous that meeting was — even if it was super ridiculous.
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