5 Cases of Employees Getting Canned Over Social Media

Kelly Spors

Many companies have relaxed their social media policies in recent years. For one, more companies want their workers to be active on social media, and it may even be part of their job description. Some studies have even found that employees who use social media outperform those who don’t and come up with more innovative ideas.

But sometimes employee social media usage gets out of hand—whether they’re using it at home or from their work computer. These situations can put companies in a prickly position, as they are forced to decide whether the social media blunder is severe enough to warrant termination.

Here’s a look at five common reasons people get fired for their social media usage along with real-life examples:

1. Badmouthing customers

A common reason employees’ social media usage gets them fired is they made a disparaging remark about a customer.  That’s how  Tamlynn Yoder got herself canned from an Outback Steakhouse in Florida in 2018, according to The Daily Meal. Venting about  not getting a tip on a large order placed by a church group,  Yoder wrote on her personal Facebook page that she made only $18 in tips that day because she spent nearly the entire shift preparing the large food order.

A friend of Yoder’s reached out to the church group about the post. The church group then contacted the restaurant to try to get a tip to Yoder. Instead, she was fired. Yoder’s post on Facebook was against Outback’s policy on posting about customers on social media.

2. Making distasteful or derogatory comments

It’s not just employees that get in trouble; sometimes executives get in trouble, too.

Mary Bono, the interim CEO of USA Gymnastics, resigned after five days on the job. Bono faced backlash  after an old tweet was discovered that was critical of Nike’s endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick. The tweet showed Bono blacking out the Nike logo on her shoes.

As the backlash grew, Bono tweeted: “I regret the post and respect everyone’s views & fundamental right to express them. This doesn’t reflect how I will approach my position (at USA Gymnastics). I will do everything I can to help build, w/ the community, an open, safe & positive environment.”USA Gymnastics accepted Bono’s resignation and issued a statement, saying “we believe this is in the best interest of the organization.”

3. Disparaging the employer or coworkers 

Employees may use their personal social media accounts to complain about their work, or even outright disparage their manager or coworkers. But if they get caught, it can come back to bite them.

In 2017, James Damore was fired by Google after writing an internal memo saying women weren’t fit to be an engineer. Damore wrote that there are “personality differences” between men and women and that was the reason why they are under-represented. His memo circulated around the company and eventually leaked to reporters.

4. Disclosing sensitive, inappropriate information

Since nearly everyone carries around a camera on their smartphones these days, photographs are getting employees in more and more trouble.

An employee of an assisted living home in Alpena, Michigan, ,  was fired in 2017 after taking a photo of an 81-year-old resident with Alzheimer’s disease. The photo was posted on Snapchat, according to a ProPublica investigation.  The photo was taken without the resident’s permission and violated the facility’s policies and procedures.

The facility’s handbook prohibited any photography of home residents. But the employee clearly took it a step further by posting a distasteful photo of a resident on her social media account without permission to do so.

5. Inciting or celebrating violence

How someone reacts to current events or news, especially if those reactions are seen as insensitive or celebrating violence and illegal activity, can lead to trouble. A Utah Transit Authority employee was fired in July 2018 after he was caught on video berating a group of women on a train, according to a local Fox affiliate.

“These are not the kind of encounters we ever want to see happen on our trains, or our buses, or any of our vehicles,” a spokeswoman told the Fox affiliate.

All these situations might be good reasons for companies to think about creating a social media policy, if they don’t have one already. Employees should be responsible for reading, understanding and signing the policy to ensure that they know the rules, and to give the company more legal protection in case an employee abuses them.

Next Steps:  Are you looking to manage your employees more effectively but don’t have time to keep up with the latest research and trends in talent management? We’ve got you covered with the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter. Sign up today and start receiving the weekly newsletter chock full of the latest tools and resources to help you run a successful business.

14 Responses to "5 Cases of Employees Getting Canned Over Social Media"

    • JOHN G LAMBROS | August 1, 2018 at 9:49 am

      A very appropriate article for small business.

    • Wayne Tavares | August 3, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Our rights are best reflected in good judgment…bad judgment overwhelms and diminishes the concept of these rights. Said another way, “Discretion is the better part of valor”; The 5 people in these anecdotal stories range from owner/founders to entry-level personnel, but there is no excuse for their bad judgment.

    • Michael Phelan | August 3, 2018 at 9:45 am

      Never express an opinion and just put non political fun things that you are doing, pictures of your children or grand children. Positive review of a customers business is also a good thing to do.

    • Marty Thomas | August 8, 2018 at 10:45 am

      Very intuitive article. I know employees feel that the information they post on “their personal site” is expressing solely the opinion of themselves. It can be damaging though to the employer or others that work for the employer.

    • Richard Denny | September 5, 2019 at 7:26 am

      Mary Bono, the interim CEO of USA Gymnastics, resigned after five days on the job. Bono faced backlash after an old tweet was discovered that was critical of Nike’s endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick. The tweet showed Bono blacking out the Nike logo on her shoes.

      As the backlash grew, Bono tweeted: “I regret the post and respect everyone’s views & fundamental right to express them. This doesn’t reflect how I will approach my position (at USA Gymnastics). I will do everything I can to help build, w/ the community, an open, safe & positive environment.”USA Gymnastics accepted Bono’s resignation and issued a statement, saying “we believe this is in the best interest of the organization.”

      I guess everyone except Mary Bono was able to express their opinion.

      Problem with today’s society is the double standards are blatant and revealing!!!!!

    • Sherman S. | September 5, 2019 at 9:48 am

      The problem with Mary Bono’s post was not that she expressed her opinion, it’s that it showed poor judgment and disqualified her from properly handling a leadership position. Even if she disagreed with Nike’s deal with Kaepernick, blacking out the Nike logo is an infantile expression intended to alienate and self-aggrandize. That’s not the sort of temperament you want in someone whose job it is to forge relationships, develop sponsorships, and broaden the appeal of a large national organization with international exposure. Kaepernick also chose to express his views, and likewise had consequences. The right of expression shouldn’t be confused with the wisdom of expression.

    • Steven | September 5, 2019 at 10:21 am

      What about just doing social media while on the job. A huge distraction for most youth to stay engaged.

    • Kelly Van Blaircum | September 5, 2019 at 10:22 am

      Well I read this and find it to further support my thoughts on social media. In my humble opinion social media is the biggest scourge to modern civilization and I do fully expect that in time history will highlight all of the harms that it has brought upon civilization. It is the one identifiable component contributing to the current divides in society not too mention the sharp increase in mental illness or stress among our youth today. I also find it laughable when someone tries to explain to me that it has enforced freedom of speech when in many cases it does the exact opposite. Just ask Mary Bono.

    • Tyler Crawford | September 5, 2019 at 10:54 am

      Agreed with Richard, an old tweet is enough to get someone fired? I realize you’re better off nowadays with zero personal social media presence but unless it pertains to the job at hand or it was done at work, the torches and pitchforks crowd of the perennially offended are going to continue to push the envelope of an “offense” and get people fired that would otherwise do a great job where they are at.

      It would be nice to see some pushback for companies to think logically, especially given in our news cycle that one week later and the crowd has run off to something else to be offended about.

    • Tom Maimone | September 5, 2019 at 2:20 pm

      Mary Bono’s offense was that she ran afoul of political correctness. She should not have lost her job over it. Being opposed to Nike and Kaepernick does not make Bono a crazy outlier. Her expression does not bear upon her ability to lead, but it does show how institutions like USA Gymnastics are so easily manipulated and bullied by “backlash” from social and mass media and certain organizations. USA Gymnastics has its own problems, to be sure, with its recent sexual harassment scandal. They are so risk averse now that they have become a useful tool of the politically correct. The suggestion that employees should avoid controversial posts has merit, but Bono’s post was made well before her potential employment. So where does that leave us – that we should never post our views on a controversial subject for fear of being hounded in the future if we seek employment? Should we allow the intolerant to abridge our freedoms like that?

    • Andy Arnold | September 5, 2019 at 3:22 pm

      This debate is simple: Just imagine you own a company and had an employee who posted disparaging comments about your child (or any other employee). They have the right to post whatever they wish on social media, and you have the right to fire them because they no longer align with your values, and are poisonous to your company’s culture. The right of free speech is maintained, and the right of the employer to terminate at-will employees is maintained. Hopefully the tension and balance between the two “rights” keeps everyone from making bad decisions.

    • aaron morris | September 6, 2019 at 11:07 am

      As a small business owner I see all social media as a distraction for employees and a minefield for business owners. Personally I have no social accounts because I just don’t need everyone knowing what I do in my spare time or for entertainment and of course my political views are kept to strictly conversations with friends. As far as employees there are usually 2 lines of thought (letting them occasionally access their accounts or cracking down and having a strict policy of no access). Many terminations have led to court and financial liabilities for all those involved so walking a fine line is warranted and sometimes you really have to look the other way and pick your battles.

      • Chloe Silverman | September 6, 2019 at 11:20 am

        Thank you for the comment, Aaron!

    • Barry Eikmann | September 13, 2019 at 6:55 am

      Case of Ms. Bono: So expressing your opinion on social media is only OK if the ‘social media’ agrees with you? Doesn’t sound very fair, but then social media has never been ‘fair’ from its creation.
      However, not a very smart move on Ms. Bono’s part, she should be well aware of the effects of social media posts.

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