I got pulled into the HR manager’s office Friday, handed screenshots of my last three Facebook posts, and told I needed to take them down. She also said I needed to stop posting any comments about the Israeli/Hamas conflict. Apparently one of my coworkers complained about my posts.
I can’t believe I’m asked to take down posts I create under my own name, on my own time and using my own equipment. I don’t see that it’s any business of my employer. I’ve worked in this organization for two years and my employer has never had issues about anything I’ve posted.
The HR manager told me I was being “asked nicely to comply” because my posts were making others “uncomfortable”. We argued and one of the statements she made really bothered me. She asked, “Is it really such a big deal to delete these posts?”
My answer is “yes.” My employer doesn’t own me 24/7. I can’t sit on the sidelines when people are dying. Isn’t there some protection for what I post on social media? What can my employer do if I refuse to stop posting?
You raise an important issue. The October 7th brutality against Israelis and the airstrikes against refugee camps killing Palestinians civilians has moved many to voice their views on social media.
Employers can fire or discipline you
What can your employer do? Plenty. Private sector employers have wide latitude in disciplining or firing employees who post controversial comments, particularly if those remarks create a hostile work environment for other employees or compromise the employer’s reputation, mission, products, services, or values.
Employers have fired employees for posts about the war
Multiple employers have fired employees who’ve posted their views concerning the Israeli/Hamas war and related issues. The Illinois comptroller’s office fired their legal counsel when she posted antisemitic comments even though she apologized to the person with whom she’d exchanged the comments, https://apnews.com/article/illinois-comptroller-employee-fired-antisemitic-comments-42b9fb4dd66b20e903ca9b8c4515c327. Penske Media fired their top editor after he posted an open letter calling for a cease-fire and blaming Israel, https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2023/11/artforum-open-letter-upheaval#:~:text=The%20touchstone%20art%20publication’s%20editor,firing%2C%20are%20still%20playing%20out.&text=By%20Benjamin%20Lozovsky%2FBFA.com.
Rhode Island Governor McKee fired a staff member for making public comments on the Israel-Hamas war, https://www.abc6.com/former-state-house-employee-fired-for-comments-on-israel-hamas-war-speaks-out/. Apple fired an employee who called Zionists murderers on social media posts, https://www.livemint.com/news/world/israelgaza-war-apple-employee-fired-after-social-media-posts-calling-zionists-murderers-and-thieves-11699197416172.html. eLife removed their editor-in-chief after he retweeted a story calling out indifference to the lives of Palestinian individuals, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-03330-w. Multiple Harvard and Columbia law students who publicly criticized Israeli actions had their job offers revoked, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/oct/18/student-palestine-letter-harvard-columbia-us-law-firm-jobs-revoked.
Social media protections
While the National Labor Relations Act protects employees who create social media posts to discuss issues related to working conditions, the Act doesn’t protect personal political views or posts about the Israel/Hamas war if they are hateful, defamatory or incite violence.
Employment at will
Further, all U.S. states other than Montana are at-will. This gives employers the freedom to terminate employees for any or no reason unless the employee has employment or union contract rights, or the employer violates public policy. Public policy violations occur when an employer discriminates against an employee due to their membership in a legally protected class such as age, sex, or religion, or retaliates against an employee for exercising protected rights.
Although twenty-five states have regulations protecting employee rights for off-duty conduct including political speech, twenty-five other states lack these laws.
HR needs to balance both your and your coworkers’ rights
You left a key issue blurred when writing me. You said the HR manager told you your posts were making others uncomfortable. Were your posts hostile, derogatory, inflammatory, or violent. Or were they simply expressing your anguish over what happened to Israelis on October 7th or to what’s happened since, and is still happening to thousands of Palestinians and Israeli innocents? If the latter, HR ordinarily wouldn’t say one employee’s “discomfort” is a strong enough reason to make another employee stop posting—on his/her own time.
What this means to you
Here’s what this means to you. You get to decide what you post.
I completely understand why you might want to post. On October 17th, moved by the Hamas brutality and in response to a reader question, I posted about the Israel/Hamas Conflict, https://workplacecoachblog.com/2023/10/the-israel-hamas-conflict-rocks-our-workplace/. I’ve written three posts since, and if I were to write another post, it would be with sympathy for the Palestinians who are suffering so greatly as well as the Israelis who’ve been put in such an untenable position. As you’ve said, none of us can sit on the sidelines when so many innocents face such tragedy.
Meanwhile, your employer gets to decide whether your posts create a hostile environment for other employees or damage their public image, run counter to their organization’s values, or might cost them clients or customers.
(c) 2023 Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
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