High-profile celebrities and professional athletes who communicate to millions via television or social media can give a false impression of what’s acceptable and proper in the typical workplace. In most circumstances, the First Amendment doesn’t protect the speech of an employee. The action of one employee can create a firestorm of controversy that may require tremendous amounts of time and resources. (Read a previous post the case study: St. Louis Rams, Chipotle Provide Insights In Response To Employee Actions.)
There are numerous examples of terminations and disciplinary actions of employees who made inappropriate or controversial statements to the media or on social media. If you’re employed by a non-governmental organization, your employment can be terminated in most cases for communicating beliefs or opinions while at work or on social media. There are some exceptions, such as circumstances involving whistle-blower regulations. If you work for the government, it’s illegal for the government to punish you if your communication is in the public interest. However, government workers can be penalized for expressing opinions pertaining to the agency where they’re employed.
Four Steps To Help Your Organization’s Conversation
Proactive organizations should schedule an opportunity to hold a conversation with employees about communicating messages. It will help them understand the importance of their actions, whether unintentional or deliberate.
Communicating Consequences: Many individuals might not understand the ramifications of a simple message. A gesture or social media post might have serious consequences for friends, families and their employers. Share the consequences that they, their families or the organization may experience.
Advocating: Most businesses desire their employees to be their ambassadors. Progressive organizations with a well-developed understanding of social media will understand how their employees can be powerful and influential advocates for their businesses. Employees can successfully represent and promote the business where they work, but they can unknowingly sabotage or destroy relationships and good will with a few key strokes, a poor photograph or questionable gesture. Employees need to understand how they are always representing their company and will be affiliated with the organization’s brand.
When In Doubt, Seek Someone Out: If you’re unhappy, dissatisfied or unsure about something happening in your organization or community, communicate your feelings to the appropriate person in your organization. This is especially true if you have the desire to express your feelings or vent them by speaking, acting out or posting on social media.