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  1. #1

    Default Can an Employee be Disciplined for Off-Duty Social Media Messages

    My question involves labor and employment law for the state of: Carolina

    I'm a city employee (parks dept) for a large city in South Carolina. Recently, another department's (water) manager gave several statements on a news interview. I disagreed with what she said and sent a private message, while not at work, to her Face book account. The water department's manager has now contacted the park's dept's manager and notified my manager of the situation and now a disciplinary investigation is on going.

    I wanted some people's thoughts on this situation. Can the off duty use of private messaging be subject to discipline? This was never posted to a story/public view and was just an instant message. I know it may be a long stretch but, does the fact the water dept's manager has contacted my manager to initiate a disciplinary investigation constitute "retaliation"? Does our 1st amendment give me any protection in this case? The message was not threatening, vulgar, etc. It was just a message saying that I disagree.

    Thanks guys! Please let me know if I may clarify anything.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    There are no laws prohibiting employers from disciplining employees who PM other employees.

    Workplace retaliation is only illegal in narrow and specific contexts (such as retaliating against employees who file wage claims with the DOL, or retaliating against employees who state they don't wish to be sexually harassed, and so on). This isn't one of those contexts.

    In the legal sense, freedom of speech is about giving you the right to state negative opinions about the government without fear of the government retaliating against you for expressing said negative opinions.

    Finally, if your real name is Michael Jones, please note that anyone - including your current employer and future prospective employers - can find everything you post on these forums by performing a simple google search.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    Thank you. I had the feeling that "retaliation" would be an extreme shot.

    For clarification, since I'm not a private sector employee and rather a government employee, what are your thoughts on that changing my freedom of speech? In this situation, the government (city) cannot retaliate (discipline) me for saying something off duty (and even that, something that wasn't ever public...just a private message) can they?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    As a government employee you may have less freedom of speech rights than private sector employees.

    But that's probably not relevant here. The concept of freedom of speech is about criticizing the government, publicly or privately. Your situation is different - you disagreed with a member of management at your employer. As I said before, employers are legally free to discipline their employees for disagreeing with their management staff. Whether said disagreement is expressed publicly or privately, rudely or politely, is not a matter addressed by law. You therefore have no legal recourse here. If you're a union member, you may have recourse with the union. But not outside that.

    (And I really really hope for your sake that Michael Jones isn't your real name.)

  5. #5

    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    I see. What gives employers the authority to discipline employees for what they say off duty? Does this mean an employee would not be able to attend say an open city council meeting and criticize actions being done by a councilman/mayor/etc? Not arguing with you---just want some clarification, please.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    In employment law (and a number of other branches of law as well) an action is considered legal unless there is a law prohibiting it. There does not have to be a law granting the employer permission to discipline an employee for what they say off-duty; the fact that no law prohibits it is enough to make it legal.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    cbg, thanks for your reply. I understand what you are saying that because nothing prohibits it, it is therefore legal. My question is still, at what point does freedom of speech off duty become a disciplin-able offense?

    Does that mean a supervisor may discipline an employee for the sole reason because they disagree with what another employee says while completely off duty?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    Yes.

    You are free to say what you like. You are also free to take the consequences for that speech. The Freedom of Speech that is guaranteed you by law is nowhere near as broad as most people think it is.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Social Media Private Messaging

    And I have told you several times that your issue has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech. And that yes, any discipline resulting from your FB PM is perfectly legal.

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