It’s pretty well known by now that employers are checking social media outlets to see what employees are saying about them. I doubt they are actually doing this on a daily basis but rather are checking if they get a call or hear word of someone saying inappropriate things online. But that’s where things get a little tricky. What is considered inappropriate? Some might say that any mention of your workplace is a bad idea, it’s best to just avoid it all together. But when part of who we are and much of what we spend our time doing is our jobs, sometimes we slip and write something that lands us in hot water.
That’s what is happening right now to Wilmington, Delaware police officer Anthony Easterling. He posted on his Facebook wall:
A word to the wise never get drunk and trip off of meds and call a cop a ‘N’ results broken jaw and criminal charges……WPD for life.
He was off duty at the time of the post. And he isn’t connected, as of now, to any physical harm done to someone being arrested. However, there is an ongoing investigation about the whole matter.
Easterling has said that he was “letting off pressure,” which I completely understand. He puts himself in danger every day. He has probably been called a gazillion names. And he’s probably arrested tons of drunk/high people. That would be frustrating day in and day out. Is he not allowed to say so on Facebook?
Mark Marshall, a sheriff in Virginia, says no. He believes that Easterling overstepped the line between public servants and private citizens. In 1994, the Supreme Court determined that in certain circumstances, the government could restrict officers’ First Amendment rights:
The government cannot restrict the speech of the public at large in the name of efficiency. But where the government is employing someone for the very purpose of effectively achieving its goals, such restrictions may well be appropriate.
Public employees that have been fired for comments made on Facebook, have been fired for violating Professionalism and Social Media Rules in their contracts. As a public employee, we’ve been cautioned numerous times about what we put online. We don’t have a Social Media section in our contract as of now, but people have gotten in trouble for not being professional when it comes to using social media. I often hate that I can’t be 100% honest online, but I wonder if anyone can. Should people be fired for venting about aspects of their job online?
I don’t have an answer for that.