5 Social Media Fails

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.

38 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.

    • 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.

    • Arthur Allen | January 22, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      Free speech is dead in the US. The thought police are out in full force. Our founding fathers were correct in saying a lot of things. “The purpose of the Constitution is to restrict the majority’s ability to harm a minority” – James Madison

    • Steve Sobol | March 10, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      First Amendment rights have nothing to do with private business. The First Amendment deals with the *government’s* ability to restrict speech. Private individuals and businesses have much more latitude in what they can and can’t restrict.

    • Watsi Sutton | March 10, 2020 at 10:40 pm

      It is regretful that the article does not address racially insensitive or outright racist social media posts for which many employees have been fired. In this racially divisive climate, employers need good guidance as to how to address such issues.

    • TracyT | March 11, 2020 at 12:19 am

      The problem with Mary Bono’s situation is that the post was already in the past when she was hired to the position, if I understand the story correctly. It had no bearing on the present moment, and was in no way a measure of her ability to lead at that moment, or they would not have hired her in the first place. Political correctness is ruining America. Now every one must live in fear not only of what they are doing in the present, but also of how anything they have done in the past may be reinterpreted through new lenses and destroy them.

    • Dean Kelsey | March 11, 2020 at 12:28 am

      I have to agree with everyone defending Ms. Bono! Neither her remarks against the Nike deal or her action of marking out the Nike logo were hateful, racist, phobic or any of the other popular adjectives used by the SJW/politically correct to describe those they disagree with. It definitely exposes the double standard and the new tenant of identity politics where freedom of speech is only acceptable for one the PC side of the discussion.

    • Chris Rose | March 11, 2020 at 12:56 am

      It seems like anything an employee says on social media can be the basis for getting fired. It seems to me that it’s better, as an employee not to say anything at all on social media. That ‘might’ let a person keep his/her job but it doesn’t say much for freedom of expression. This is a sad state we have come to, fueled partly by so many people looking for offense under every rock.

    • Sandra Altshuler | March 11, 2020 at 1:52 am

      If Mary’s tweet was pre-employment, then it should have no bearing on her employer keeping her or firing her. It speaks more to a lack of due diligence by the company that hired her in the first place. I happen to agree with her point of view, but if it was post employment, then it is correct to have let her go.

    • Mark A. | March 11, 2020 at 2:07 am

      Freedom of speech exist only in the public space.

      On private property freedom of speech is at the whims of he that owns and has care custody and control over that private property. Most have a mistaken thought that freedom of speech is protected everywhere. Your job is generally on private property so again subject to the whims of he that has care custody and control of that property.

      Regarding freedom of speech by an employee outside of work on their own time and away from the workplace it comes down to employment at will as well as how what you say and do impacts the employer.

      Regarding freedom of speech for government employees that’s a whole different subject matter.

      Sometimes one must weigh keeping a job versus speaking your mind unrestrained.

      Before someone brings up yelling fire in the public space there are limits to freedom of speech in the public space based on public safety issues. Additionally issues of defamation of character must be considered before thinking speech is free in the public space.

      Not simple as they say.

    • Todd Frederick | March 11, 2020 at 2:59 am

      Maybe this article will helps clear out some of the weeds.
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/08/25/when-you-can-and-cant-fire-employees-for-social-media-misbehavior/#3cbf4b1073b1

    • Ben spinelli | March 11, 2020 at 6:17 am

      I have a really easy solution to this problem. Keep your comments to yourself about everything. You will never lose a job over opinions that are never expressed.

    • Joan Burkholder | March 11, 2020 at 7:23 am

      Social Media is the way today’s world communicates. Years ago it was face to face, didn’t travel as far or as fast; but the same kinds of issues between people at their work happened and the responses to those communications were largely ignored by employers unless it became a big issue in the local news. An example, a coworker slandered me accusing me of failing to do my job (to our boss by the way). In his mind it was typical of women in the work place. They should all stay home where they belonged and husbands should keep them barefoot and pregnant. No other woman had been my job before and I was paid about 40% less than the person before me. Yes, I knew exactly what had been paid to the person before me. The truth I was doing a better job. My work was done way ahead of schedule and correctly. There were no large piles of backlog stacked in the inbox which had prompted his derogatory comments. Yes, it angered me. So, I simply stood in front of his desk and told him “It would be a cold day in hell when I couldn’t work circles around him!” Our boss never said a thing, either to me or to my coworker. Yes, he knew about the issue. Six months later he apologized. (Women are engineers and were then.) We had to stand up for ourselves. No one got fired for it and it never went any further. Did I tell friends and family about the issue? Of course. Could I cite names and places in this comment? Of course! Will I? No. Was it a large nationwide organization? Yes!

    • wilson collins | March 11, 2020 at 8:31 am

      better to keep your mouth shut and have everyone think your an idiot…as opposed to opening it and confirming the theory…. think before you speak or act

    • Andrea | March 11, 2020 at 9:19 am

      Ms Bono was wrongfully fired and show sue the employer. Nike is the one that should rethink their behavior.

    • aaron morris | March 11, 2020 at 9:39 am

      Perhaps Joan missed the articles intended point? It was in regards to social media and people getting ‘canned’ because they used them irresponsibly.

      Ben I think summed this up the best.
      “I have a really easy solution to this problem. Keep your comments to yourself about everything. You will never lose a job over opinions that are never expressed.” Very true and can’t be argued with.

    • Bruce Hinson | March 11, 2020 at 9:57 am

      It has been wisely said, and more wisely followed, that if you throw mud expect to get dirty. When I read rants about people or companies (uh, my own of course excluded), I often get a sense of that person being a negative and critical person. That one aspect of the rant focuses much of my attention on the mud-slinger than their target. But, that depends on how they word things and whether the criticism is given in a spirit of helpfulness to a possible blind spot.

    • Elaine Monty | March 11, 2020 at 11:10 am

      All those deriding the consequences of their (or others) choice for a decision to tell the world their opinions are the real snowflakes they like to label others as. You play in the town square at your own peril. If you aren’t prepared for the good and bad that can come from it, stay on the porch. All this whining about Mary – and ‘you can’t say what you want anymore’. I don’t see you holding your tongues, so clearly you don’t feel that impugned. Your comments and allegiances with the likes of a Mary reveal who you are and it’s long overdue that you and your ‘personal opinions’ cause the same negative impact in your world that you’ve caused and continue to try and create everywhere. Times up! More, more,
      more backlash for bs.

    • Joe Black, Sr. | March 11, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Common sense is at issue here. I, unfortunately, is a dwindling attribute in society these days. Mary Bono was a victim of the PC culture. If the company felt that way about her social media history, maybe they should have searched it. It can’t be that hard, as things from people’s past are always coming up. It was the past, but at the same time, it appears she was in a sports related industry, I don’t know USA Gymnastics, but the tweet may have meant a lot less if she were CEO of a tech firm or a manufacturer. To me their reaction was an over reaction and possibly motivated by persons that didn’t particularly like her to begin with. It is sad to me, that so many people have lost the ability to use and express Common Sense. The other cases seem to be clear cut grounds for Termination.

      Also, I may be wrong, but the one about the restaurant was a case of the employee over reacting. Either they did pay a large tip in the billing and she didn’t know it, or the church realized it was a miscommunications of some sort on there end, and were going to take care of it. It was their intention to give her a good tip. I believe she didn’t wait or ask about it and took to the social media too quickly.

    • Michele Bowen | March 11, 2020 at 11:44 am

      It shouldn’t take a genius to know that if you are in the upper levels of management, maybe you shouldn’t be posting any opinions anywhere. We have known for many years now that what appears on social media/internet stays there one way or another. As a potential CEO, Mary Bono should be acting as a role model & not part of the masses. Her bad & she has only herself to blame. Besides, Black Lives do Matter & ultimately Kaepernick’s stance only hurt himself.

    • Tony Palmieri | March 11, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      2 words….Bravo, Ben! I’m done! (oops, that’s 10 words and 3 numbers.)

    • Angel Root | March 11, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      I think that the only restrictions should be on social media platforms that do not allow you to restrict your audience ie; twitter. If someone is handing their personal faceboook page responsibly, then they should be set as private. They should also be aware of accepting friend requests from people that are business relationships only. Or we have a disclosure statement that the views expressed are of a free thinking individual and not that of a collective involving the place of employment.

    • Michael Davis | March 11, 2020 at 1:43 pm

      Freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee you a job. You can say whatever you want to whomever you want and you can post whatever you want. BUT poor judgment and bad choices do have repercussions.

    • Mark H | March 11, 2020 at 4:56 pm

      The “political correctness” bullying does not just apply to the Bono example. The author of this article, as have many others, unfairly smears James Damore by claiming that he said ‘women were unfit to be engineers’. I read his entire post back in the day and he says nothing close to that. It’s a lazy and/or dishonest mischaracterization. However, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his admittedly controversial opinions, it is that very slanted and oversimplified interpretation that got him fired, not his actual argument. So called “woke” and “enlightened” social media activists are either too ideologically blinded or too ignorant to appreciate nuance and fairly acknowledge the real science that overwhelmingly concludes that female and male brains are wired differently (not better or worse), and they are too mean to just agree to disagree without ruining someone’s career.

    • Gail Bradley | March 11, 2020 at 9:00 pm

      In all honesty, it is critical that we are careful about what we say and do to others. Today it is so easy to expose almost anything. We should be able to express our opinion because of our rights to freedom of speech. Sometimes jobs or work can really become overbearing and speak out on Facebook just may be a way of venting our aggression but unfortunately, social media just takes everything and makes things look ugly and nasty. Be Careful!

    • William Gould | March 11, 2020 at 11:09 pm

      James Damore did NOT say that women were unfit to be engineers. He SAID that fewer women will WANT to be engineers due to differences in personality. He posted his memo, not on social media, but on a Google-encouraged feedback forum.

    • Sylvia Antonelli | March 13, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      Free speech means you may say anything you want. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences. One should think before one speaks (or writes). There is no need to chronicle one’s life. It attracts more critics than fans.

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