Social media use and public sector employees

Every day, it seems as if there is a new political, cultural, generational or regional controversy. Whatever the disagreement might be, people may have strong feelings about it and want to share those feelings with others.

Today, it is easier than ever for people to express themselves and their beliefs, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. However, using these platforms to share opinions or disseminate information can create problems, particularly for public sector employees.

Problems for public employees

People who work in the public sector face added scrutiny on their statements compared to private sector employees. Because social media activity can spread easily and quickly, any comments or actions that might go against an employer or cause issues at work can be problematic. In such situations, employers may decide to fire or otherwise discipline that employee.

However, there are several gray areas when it comes to this matter, as discussed in this article. And whether the person’s speech online is protected or grounds for discipline depends on numerous factors. 

For instance, did the social media activity occur during work hours? Was the employee acting on behalf of the employer? Did he or she use a work computer or official account? What type of statements did the employee make?

The answer to these questions will all affect whether the employee can and should face consequences for what they have said or shared.

Preventing disputes before they arise

There are a couple ways parties can avoid disputes regarding social media.

Employers can create and enforce social media policies that clearly define restrictions on social media use and actions that can lead to disciplinary actions. 

Employees would be wise to use caution when posting or sharing any personal ideas or beliefs online. This is especially true if they conflict with those of an employer.

The social media landscape can be surprisingly difficult to navigate as a public sector employee. People take seriously their right to engage in protected speech, as they should. And employers take seriously their right to address actions that are disruptive or compromise the employer’s ability to perform services. Should these two interests clash, legal action may be necessary.