I got pulled into the HR manager’s office Friday, handed screenshots of my last three Facebook posts and was 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 Oct. 7 brutality against Israelis and the airstrikes against Gaza refugee camps, killing Palestinian civilians, has moved many to voice their views on social media.
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.
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. Penske Media fired their top editor after he posted an open letter calling for a cease-fire and blaming Israel.
Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee fired a staff member for making public comments on the Israel-Hamas war. Apple fired an employee who called Zionists “murderers” on social media posts. eLife removed their editor-in-chief after he retweeted a story calling out indifference to the lives of Palestinian people. Multiple Harvard and Columbia law students who publicly criticized Israeli actions had their job offers revoked.
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.
Further, Alaska is an at-will employment state. This gives Alaska 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 25 states have regulations protecting employee rights for off-duty conduct including political speech, Alaska and the other 24 states lack these laws.
Here’s what this means to you: You get to decide what you post; however, 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.
[Workplace advice: I’m Jewish. My coworkers’ cheers for Hamas shocked me.]