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Facebook can’t get you fired

New rulings say your boss can’t dismiss you for talking trash, online or off.

By Rich_Maloof Jan 23, 2013 5:26PM

Job seekers have already heard any number of nightmare stories about people who learned a hard lesson in the age of social media. Companies visit social sites to check out potential candidates, and if you’re the one asking to be hired, you don’t want your named tagged in Facebook photo of you dancing drunkenly on a bar in a bikini (especially if you’re a guy).

Photo: RunPhoto/Getty ImagesThat’s a deal-breaker for someone knocking on a company’s door looking for work. Once on the inside, employees find large and small businesses alike very protective of their own online reputations. The web has proven to be a great equalizer, for better and for worse, and all it takes is a few discouraging words or downturned thumbs to scare away customers or tarnish a carefully crafted corporate identity.

Employee manuals commonly include strict rules about what can and can’t be said online, even from private accounts — with a threat of terminating the employee for violating policy.

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No can do, says the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, first formed to protect unions, says workers have the same right to discuss work on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks as they do at the water cooler. Barring a breach of confidentiality, employers cannot fire you for talking trash online.

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Specific guidelines are yet to be determined, but recent rulings and advisories by labor regulators have made blanket restrictions on disparaging comments about managers, co-workers, or a company illegal, according to a report in The New York Times. The NLRB has even ordered the reinstatement of some workers previously fired for such violations.

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The new rulings will reshape the social-media policies of companies in the private sector. As the Times notes, the new employee protections come at a time when schools, universities, government agencies, and corporations are debating what constitutes appropriate online discussion.

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Photo: RunPhoto/Getty Images

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