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Hiring and Firing: When Work and Social Media Don’t Mix

I'm sure you've heard some of the crazy stories about employees being fired for what they posted on social.

Take for instance….

The Taco Bell employee who was fired for posting a picture of himself on social licking a stack of taco shells at work.

The day care attendant who was let go when she posted, "I start my new job today. But I absolutely hate working at day care…I just really hate being around a lot of kids."

Or the newly-hired Cisco employee who tweeted, "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."


These are obviously extreme cases, and it's understandable why these people would lose their jobs. It's also understandable that someone would be let go for content they've posted that's racially-charged, homophobic, or sexist in nature.

Not all cases are this black and white, however. Social media is a hot topic in the hiring process, and just as employees have been met with consequences for their posts, companies have taken heat for "snooping" profiles of their employees and potential candidates.

So how do we, as employers and employees, approach social media? And where do we draw the line?

Screening Candidates' Social Profiles

According to CareerBuilder, 70% of employers are now snooping candidates' social media profiles (outside of professional channels such as LinkedIn).

If someone's profile is public, then viewing it isn't an intrusion of privacy, but companies need to realize that using someone's social profile to inform a hiring decision can open the door for potential bias on the employer's part. For instance, the employer may deem something posted on social as "inappropriate," while the candidate may have found humor in it. This brings subjectivity into the equation—and many of us have a different idea of what is and isn't funny. We all have different context filters, and this is something we need to keep in mind during the hiring process.

It's also important to avoid assumptions during this time. Conclusions made about how the candidate would perform on the job based on their social media activity may be unfounded. For example, if a person posts what the employer considers "too frequent, and with poor grammar," it doesn't mean the candidate would be posting away on social during work hours or using poor grammar in their work materials.

If this type of screening is happening in your organization, the most important thing to assure is that you're reducing the threat of unconscious bias by avoiding assumptions and judgments while also getting clear on what you're screening for.

As an employer, it's important to check your context by asking an important question:

Are the feelings I have about this social post just a reflection of my own personal beliefs, or could this actually lead to real problems in the workplace?

Invite relevant people to the "screening conversation" to discuss what type of social media content is considered a potential deal breaker in the hiring process, and together, get clear about what works and doesn't work for the company as a whole.

And if a profile is set to private, respect the candidate's privacy setting and don't try to weasel your way around it.

Representing Your Company

Whether you're a leader or individual contributor, it's basic consideration to take your employer (or potential employer) into account when posting on social media. That is, if you want to remain employed.

When you sign on to the mission of your company, you loosely become a representative. Although what you post on social may be completely unrelated to work, if the content of your message goes directly against the values of your company or what your company stands for, that's a contradiction—and there is likely an integrity outage on your part that needs to be addressed.

And, it would only make sense for an employer and the people you work with to have an issue with this integrity outage. If you're going to be real, it requires that you show up with integrity both inside and outside of work. If you don't hold the same values or beliefs as your employer, we need to get real about that. If we do align, then we need to act in alignment with this truth—and that includes what we share across our social channels.

A good rule of thumb whether you're a CEO, team leader, HR professional, or contributor, is to not bad-mouth your company or anyone you're working with on social. Posting destructive comments about your coworkers or company is likely to create more problems, and a post of this nature is anything but fierce. If you have an issue with a coworker or some aspect of your job, tap into your courage and address the problem directly.

Drawling Lines in the Sand

If you're an individual contributor, know what your employer expects in this area, and if it hasn't been communicated, ask. If you often find yourself wondering to post or not to post, have a conversation with yourself about your values and get clear on what matters most to you. Getting clear in these areas can help you determine what you should share on social, whether to keep your profiles private or public, and whether you want to grant anyone you work with access to your private profiles.

If you feel particularly passionate about a public post you've made that your employer is unhappy about, it's not unreasonable to stand your ground and say, "This matters to me, and I'm going to keep this message public." Keep in mind that your employer may not support this, but if you're living in your integrity, you can walk away feeling good that your decision was aligned with your truth.

And the boundary setting goes both ways.

As an employer, you may want to consider creating a formal list of social media Dos and Don'ts so that employees understand up front what works and doesn't work for the company. Whether you decide to go the formal route or not, it's important to quickly address issues that do arise. This provides an opportunity to set clear expectations with employees, keeping the best interest of the company in mind.

If you're a leader or HR professional who's come across an unsettling social post that could reflect negatively on the company, it may be time for a confrontation conversation. By confronting the issue directly with the person who made, let's say, a controversial post that could negatively impact your team dynamic, you have the chance to get to the heart of the matter and resolve the issue in a way that enriches the relationship. In these situations, the process of resolving the conflict can leave both parties with a deeper understanding of each other. That is fierce.

And if an employee is posting pics of themselves licking taco shells in your restaurant, you may just want to take it straight to a termination conversation.

Is direct confrontation often avoided in your organization? Check out our recent blog post here on transforming your culture of "nice" into one of results. 


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