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Lombardi Law Firm

Social media use by employees may lead to termination in some cases

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In Iowa, employment is generally "at-will," meaning that an employer can fire an employee any time, for any reason provided it is not discriminatory or retaliatory.  Otherwise, an employee can be fired if she or he says something on Facebook that an employer sees and doesn't like.  Many employees use social media sites to vent their work frustrations, but often do so in a way that attacks co-workers and/or supervisors, who have the power to terminate said employees, and they do.  The National Labor Relations Board has been investigating this area for some time and says that employees are allowed to discuss their employment to pursue better working conditions and wages without fearing retaliatory termination, but this does not allow them to complain about their employers and be protected from termination.  The Iowa Workforce Devlopment Unemployment Division has heard several cases wherein an employee is fired for Facebook postings that reflect negatively on the employer.  The employer deems this "misconduct" and uses it as a basis for termination, especially when the postings are made during work hours.  Employees often use smart phones on breaks to post on social media and it is unclear whether this comes within "work conduct."  Many administrative law judges have ruled in favor of allowing these fired employees to receive unemployment insurance benefits, finding that social media postings are not "misconduct" under employment law such that benefits should be denied.  However, these rulings do not touch on whether the termination was legal to begin with; an employee may receive unemployment benefits even if she or he was lawfully terminated.  Not all judges rule this way, however, and the outcome will often depend on the particular facts of the case in addition to the inclincation of the particular judge deciding whether benefits should be allowed.  In siding with caution, it is best not to post on social media sites during work, and to never do so in a way that discredits or attacks the employer.

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