It happens with distressing regularity. Some employee, somewhere, gets on a social media site and vents to a circle of “friends” about something that happened at the office, and loses her job as a result.
The most recent example involves a (former) first grade teacher in Paterson. Distressed about the behavior of some of her students, she took to Facebook to say that she was “not a teacher – I'm a warden for future criminals.” She also expressed regret that she could not take her students to a “Scared Straight” program. These statements got out and generated predictable outrage among parents. The tenured teacher was suspended with pay, and ultimately her employment was terminated.
On appeal the Appellate Division upheld the termination.
Taking the teacher's story at face value, her frustration is understandable. Apparently some students had hit and stolen from both her and other students not long before the Facebook posting. She was an experienced teacher with tenure and a clean record. She apparently had discussed the students' behavior with the school administration, without effect. None of that helped her. In the end she lost her job because she went public with her frustration, in a way that the court found compromised public confidence in the education system.
The lesson: even if you think that you are venting to a few friends on a social media site, the chances are good that in actuality you are going public whether you intend to or not. Your comments probably will come out, and you may find your job in jeopardy, or gone, as a result.
Related thoughts from the Delaware Employment Law Blog here.