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Beware the Perils of Work-Related Social Media Posts

November 2nd, 2017

By: Amy Rosenberger

Beware the Perils of Work-Related Social Media PostsIf you’ve spent much time on social media, chances are you have come across that person who “over-shares.” Some posts are just awkward; some are offensive; others are so personal they make the reader squirm. A recent decision from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is a reminder that when you share something on the internet – even on a site you think is private or personal – you cannot be sure who will ultimately receive the information, and it could be used against you later on.

In the employment context, it is not unusual for employee social media posts to find their way into the hands of the employer. Even if the employee uses the site’s privacy settings to limit public access, anyone who sees the post – a customer, friend or coworker – could pass it along to the employer.

In Gumpher v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, decided on August 30, 2017, a former employee’s Facebook post was used to discredit his stated reason for leaving his job, and ultimately formed part of the basis to deny him unemployment compensation benefits. The employee, Mr. Gumpher, argued he was forced to quit his job because his employer changed his hours from day shift to evening shift for a week, leaving him and his wife with no one to care for his four children. He normally worked the day shift, and his wife worked evenings. She looked after their four children during the day, and he took care of them in the evenings. They could not afford to pay for child care, so he argued that if he had worked the evening shift he would have had to leave his children alone.

But he told his Facebook friends something different. On the day he was supposed to start working the evening shift, he wrote the following post: “Time for a change, Work decided to have 2nd Shift (Picked for that) don’t like, so chose not to…it’s a choice you can make when retired. There are other jobs. Time to relax for a while.” He never reported back to work, and filed for unemployment compensation benefits, claiming he had no choice but to quit.

The employer contested the unemployment compensation claim and, at the hearing, presented Mr. Gumpher’s Facebook post as evidence that he did have a choice. Mr. Gumpher testified that the post was on his “personal Facebook page” and he “made it out of haste and regret.” Nevertheless, the post provided part of the basis for the referee, and later the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, to determine that Mr. Gumpher left his job because he did not like the evening shift, not because he could not have found child care if he had tried.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court upheld this part of the ruling, noting that it has previously upheld unemployment compensation decisions based in part on social media posts. In one of those cases, a Facebook post was used to show that the employee had violated the employer’s policy on dishonesty. In another, a Facebook post provided evidence that an accident the employee was involved in could have been avoided.

Social media sites like Facebook can be a great place to keep in touch with friends and family, and to stay on top of the news of the day. But one thing they are not is private.

 

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