For some reason, many employees are surprised when inappropriate content they put on the Web is read by their boss or someone in HR. A few even go as far as suing the company once they’re disciplined or fired because of it.
Jeffrey Spanierman was non-tenured high school teacher in Ansonia, Connecticut — until he was fired because of his MySpace page.
He said he created the page to communicate with students outside of school and build a better relationship with them. But parents and school officials weren’t too pleased when they saw what was on the site.
The profile, in which Spanierman called himself “Mr. Spiderman,” contained nude photos of men, foul language and inappropriate conversations with students (including one about whether a student was “getting any,” presumably referring to sex).
The school ordered him to take the profile down. He did, but then put an identical page up shortly after and was promptly fired.
Spanierman sued, claiming his right to free speech was violated. But the court ruled in the employer’s favor. The MySpace page was clearly inappropriate and raised doubts about his ability to do his job. Therefore, the school made the right choice when it fired him.
Can MySpace get someone fired?
Can employers terminate workers based on their online activities? It’s a complicated question and one that has yet to be fully tested in court.
Things get tricky with public employers, who are subject to First Amendment restrictions. Also, some states have laws against terminating workers for off-duty conduct.
But as this case shows, what makes it onto the Web can end up being job related. Other employees have been fired after bragging online about stealing or lying about skipping work. Some employers have let people go out of fear that a worker’s stupidity could damage the company’s reputation.
In those situations, employers shouldn’t expect any legal trouble.
What has your experience been? Have you or any of your managers come across an employee’s online profile? Ever fired anyone because of it? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Cite: Spanierman v. Hughes