I have often said that individuals have freedom of speech, but not freedom from the consequences of that free speech. In the employment world, that is especially true. A number of years ago, an employee from Birmingham flew to Memphis to meet with a client. When he landed, he tweeted a very negative impression of the city, basically asking why anyone would want to live/work there. By the time he arrived at the client’s office, the client terminated his company from doing any additional work. The termination was based solely on his tweet.
Now, a new story of social media stupidity has become viral. 37 year old Adam Smith was the CFO of a large company, with a $200,000 a year salary and $1,000,000 in stock options. In 2012, when Chick-Fil-A was being criticized for its stance on gay marriage, Smith drove through at a Chick-Fil-A, ordered a cup of water, and proceeded to berate the employee. Smith told the employee: “Chick-Fil-A is a hateful corporation. I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here. I don’t understand it.” He captured it all on video, and posted it on YouTube. He was subsequently terminated from his job, and has just published a book about his experience, “A Million Dollar Cup of Water”. As an aside, the book is scheduled to be released in paperback on April 21, but to date has only had 17 digital copies sold. Smith says he has been unable to land a job due to the notoriety from the YouTube video he posted. He is currently living with his wife and 4 children in an RV. He told ABC News the reason he can’t get a job is that “I think people are scared. I think people are scared that it could happen again”. Although he discloses his past to potential employers, he has not been hired. He says that “I don’t regret the stand I took, but I regret…the way I talked to her.”
Practice pointers. Alabama is an employment at will state. An employee can be fired for any reason, no reason, good reason or bad reason, just not an illegal reason. With over 70% of employers conducting background searches on the internet on potential hires, improper and/or inappropriate social media posts on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. can result in an employer not hiring that person. Improper and/or inappropriate posts, or those perceived as being improper and/or inappropriate, can also lead to termination, as with Mr. Smith. I have seen numerous posts of partying, drinking, various states of undress(think spring break), improper handling of firearms (sometimes while drinking), racist and anti-religious comments, and many more posts that could result in an employer not hiring that individual, or terminating him/her if already employed. Employers need to exercise caution, however, when making these decisions. If the decision not to hire, or to terminate is based on protected activity, such as being pregnant, having an illness considered to be a disability (such as cancer), race, religion, age and/or national origin, it can lead to a lawsuit claiming discrimination.