Q: I work at a small restaurant. I really enjoy my job. I am not an expert but the kitchen seems unclean. Recently I posted a comment and a picture on Facebook saying that the chicken was gross and undercooked. A co-worker says I could be fired. I say it is free speech. Which do you think?
A: Social media certainly has created quite a bit of confusion when it comes to expressing our views about our employers. Employee and employers alike are trying to determine what is appropriate and what is not.
Your co-worker is right. If you are an at-will employee, your employer could terminate you because of a negative post about their food on Facebook. According to Jeffrey Dretler, a partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP, “The Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does protect your right to speak your mind, but your employer also has a right not to employ workers that are openly critical of its product which could lead to a loss of business or hurt its reputation. The Free Speech clause does provide some protection to a public sector employee who speaks out in his or her individual capacity about a matter of public concern, but that does not seem applicable to your situation.”
When I read your question, I thought about why you wouldn’t approach the owner about your concern. If the owner was not responsive, wouldn’t it make sense to contact the local board of health? My concern is around the health and well-being of customers, not just complaining about your employer.
Dretler offers some sage advice, “When posting comments on social media remember that speech or conduct on social media enjoys just as much, or just as little, protection as other kinds of speech or conduct. The risk, and benefit, of social media is that content is often widely disseminated, even when you may have intended to only share it with your ‘Friends’ or contacts. If you wouldn’t say it to your employer directly, the best practice is to think twice before posting it on social media.”
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.