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OK to Fire an Employee Over Tweets?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

We say it time and time again: Under certain circumstances, you can fire employees for posting inappropriate tweets.

The White House put this golden rule to the test when it recently fired Jofi Joseph, a National Security Council director. Joseph was let go after an extensive investigation linked him to the Twitter handle @NatSecWonk, which criticized many players in Washington and national politics, according to Washington D.C.'s WRC-TV. Worst of all, his disparaging jokes weren't even funny.

In honor of Joseph's perilous lack of good judgment and foresight, here's a friendly reminder of when you can fire an employee for unprofessional tweets:

  1. When it violates company policy. Lewd comments, racist messages, and pictures of illegal drug use may all potentially be used to support disciplinary action. However, be careful about using purely private off-duty conduct to support an employment decision. When an employee violates company policy, the employer often has a legitimate reason to boot the employee.
  2. When it violates your non-disclosure agreement. If your employee works with sensitive information and he or she signed a non-disclosure agreement, you may fire the employee for tweeting, posting, pinning or digging your trade secrets or other valuable information.
  3. When it makes your business look bad. A growing number of employers have social media policies in place that prevent employees from making statements on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter that could damage the company or other employees' reputations. If an employee violates the policy by making the company look bad, an employer may be able to terminate the employee. The key is to make sure the company's social media policy isn't too restrictive.

Terminating an employee for inappropriate tweets is an awkward matter. To make sure everyone's on the same page, consider dedicating an employment contract provision that clarifies what types of social media conduct can lead to termination.

For personal advice about whether it's OK to fire an employee over tweets or other social media activity, you may want to consult an experienced employment lawyer near you.

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