Every year I speak to high school and college students about how social media can affect landing (and keeping) a job, and I’m often surprised that they should be able to say and do anything they want online without any consequences. I want to set the record straight:

Yes, you can get fired for what you post on Twitter or Facebook.

Yes, what you post on social media can influence whether or not you get hired.

This week, there’s a story making headlines of a young girl who was fired from her job at a small pizzeria before it even began, when she tweeted how unhappy she was about starting the job. When the local business owner was sent a screenshot of her dramatic tweet, he replied to it, firing her with a little drama of its own.

Her tweet:


And the business owner’s reply (he has since set his account to private):



Which prompted her reply:


The girl in question has become quite a celebrity, with interview requests and lots of support by people declaring what the business owner did wrong, and some going so far as to say it was illegal. Many told her she should hire an attorney or call the human resources department of the company.


First, let me say that there are reasons that you cannot legally be fired. You cannot be fired because of discrimination of your race, religion, gender, or age (if you are over 40). You cannot be fired for refusing to take a polygraph (lie detector). You cannot be fired for refusing to do something illegal.

But you can be fired for what you say and how you act, both on and off the job.

The most common argument against firing someone because of what they said or did on social media is that they were just “exercising their right to free speech.” Let me make this perfectly, crystal, clear:

Free speech protects you from government persecution, and nothing else.

Here’s the long analysis on Wikipedia, but the actual constitutional amendment states (emphasis mine):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

You have the right to say whatever you want (aside from threats, etc), and the government cannot arrest you or persecute you for it. But actions have consequences, and you certainly can be fired for exercising your right to free speech.

So next time you are thinking about posting that rant about your boss on Facebook, or you’re about to tweet about how you’re really just “sick of work” when you called out sick, think again. And if you also violated a company policy you will most likely not be eligible to receive unemployment benefits, either.

And remember, freedom does not mean free from consequences.

P.S. I am not an attorney. Don’t take this as legal advice.

I am, however, a small business owner for more than 15 years, and have worked in small businesses since I was 16. Though I would not have done it the same way, the result would have been the same if I found one of my employees talking about their job this way.

Photo courtesy of Mr.TinDC on Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0).