In other words, some seemingly controversial online conversations may be allowable in the eyes of the law, even if your boss doesn’t approve. And while experts agree the best personal policy is to use good judgment and keep any remotely controversial conversations off the Internet — as well as to make sure you know your individual employer’s policies regarding social media usage — here are some ground rules for what you can and can’t say about work:
You can technically . . .
Tweet about your salary. The National Labor Relations Board protects certain actions regarding communication about working conditions. Under these protected activities as defined by the NLRB, it is within an employee’s rights to discuss details — including his paycheck amount — across social media platforms, explains Mintzer. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. For one, for the rule to apply, your announcement has to show you’re engaging in “concerted activity” with co-workers — i.e., you’re sharing salary info not to show you’re #blessed but rather to see if it’s in line with what others in your company are making.
Talk politics. New York is one of four states (including California, Colorado and North Dakota) with a lifestyle discrimination statute on the books that prevents employers from firing an employee for their political beliefs. This applies even if your company isn’t based in New York City: Companies that have employees in multiple states or countries have to comply with the laws of all of the jurisdictions in which they operate, says Mintzer.
That said, keep your thoughts on the 2016 presidential election to yourself while you’re on the clock — even if you’re posting your thoughts from your phone, your employer can sanction you for stealing company time if your posts are timestamped during work hours. And if you work in an industry (such as journalism) in which your involvement could construe bias, it’s best to find out the official policy before you announce your affiliation to the world.
Ask for input on unpopular decisions. “Concerted activity” also applies to discussing certain office happenings. For example, did the higher-ups decide to put off reviews and raises . . . again? Discussing working conditions in advance of a meeting with management is an activity that’s protected by the NLRB, whether done virtually or in real life — so technically, a post like that is fair game. However, Mintzer cautions that derogatory or profane-ridden comments can easily cross the line to where the employer could cite “bullying” or “harassment” as grounds for dismissal — which is why it’s best to leave these conversations off the Internet.
You shouldn’t . . .
Snap your “sick” day. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for people in the office to be checking your social media accounts, so make sure you go dark if you call in sick. If your boss finds you hitting the bar or hopping on a flight to Vegas, they have grounds to terminate you for an unauthorized absence, says Robin Bond, founder and managing partner of Wayne, Pa., employment law firm Transition Strategies LLC.
Instagram your office. Unless you’ve been given explicit permission to post from the higher-ups, it’s best to keep pictures under wraps. You may think you’re merely chronicling the holiday decorations in the conference room, but your boss may see that you also captured the mock-ups on the wall for next season’s major project and call you out as leaking confidential info, which is usually a terminable offense, says Bond. And make sure your office walls aren’t offensive: In May, a story photographing the Lilly Pulitzer workplace captured one employee’s cubicle that had fat-shaming cartoons on the wall. When an employer allows you to decorate your own space, harassment or bullying could technically come up as reasons for dismissal if your walls are similarly decorated, say experts.
Complain about an annoying customer or client. Rule of thumb? Pretend all the information you share online can be read by your boss — even if you’re not “friends,” suggests Bond. Under NLRB rules, it is a gray area about what is or is not protected speech online. But even if non-supervisors can legally disparage their company or bosses within the protection of “collective action” about terms and conditions of employment, it doesn’t reflect well upon the writer’s future executive potential — or employability with another firm, reminds Bond. Bottom line: Think twice, and save the snark for your real friends.