Arizona Intern Fired for Racist Tweet: Social Media Matters

Earlier this week Arizona intern Erika Escalante was fired after publishing a racist tweet. After visiting a cotton farm with a friend, she posted pictures of them picking cotton with the caption “Our inner n****r came out today.” Twitter users quickly connected Escalante with her employer — thanks to her bio, which included her position at healthcare company Isagenix — and informed them. They weren’t impressed.

Escalante subsequently deleted her social media accounts and apologized. Great, she learned her lesson! Except no, reports Employer Handbook, she didn’t. On Tuesday Escalante created a new Twitter account and is complaining about having been fired, claiming she has a right to free speech (obviously) and that this was a wrongful dismissal (nope).

Escalante couldn’t be more wrong. I know it, you know, and lots of reasonable professionals know it. But the rising number of employees being fired for social media mistakes, from front line retail workers to highly paid professionals, makes it clear that a not enough people understand what constitutes a fireable social media offence.

Among many useful infographics about how to use and not use social media, The Muse shared this clear and concise breakdown of how you can ruin your professional life on social media:

the muse infographic, fired for social media

Can we turn this into a poster and share it in break rooms all over the world? Rules around speech, employer reputation, and safe workplaces vary, but there’s nowhere that the above behaviours are wise. And yet the myth persists that speech uttered when off the clock is somehow “protected;” that creating a hostile work environment, or endangering or embarrassing your employer and its clients is just fine, so long as you aren’t getting paid to do it.

This Rolling Stone roundup of people who have been fired over obvious social media mistakes — racism, harassment, violent language, smoking weed at work — is equally astounding and depressing. It includes a fast food worker who shared photos of himself peeing in a customer’s meal, and a teacher who Facebook stalked his teenage students. It includes, of course, Justine Sacco, who made an offhand racist joke, hopped on a long international flight, and on arrival, found out she was fired. These and Escalante’s recent dismissal all seem obvious. Kids these days, amirite? But this month alone there were several other major stories of adult humans being fired over their social media activity.

It’s not employer’s responsibility to ensure employees understand basic human decency, but perhaps companies could do more to educate workers about the law in this area. The trouble is communicating this information in a way that will stick. I know from my own experience in conducting orientations that less is more. They won’t remember statues. They won’t remember complex rules or long regulations. What does stick is clear and concise rules, and company culture. Make the rules simple and make sure they’re reflected in your conduct and that of other employees.

When the rules are embodied and modelled in the workplace, and widely bought into, they’re easy to understand and follow. That’s the challenge for employers. The challenge for employees, on the other hand, is to just not be a jerk.

Here are two more reads, and one fun watch, on social media conduct and work:

5 Terrific Examples of Company Social Media Policies

If you’re thinking about reworking your company’s social media policy, then this might be a good read. Karen D’angelo shares 5 great social media policies and analyzes why they work. It’s not just about having the right rules, it’s about having the right approach for your organization.

Managing An Employee’s Public Conduct in the Social Media Age

So you want to prevent these kinds of incidents? Transworld Business has some suggestions on how you might do that, including communicating with your employees regularly, and giving their complaints a fair hearing.

Taryn Southern’s Tips On How to Avoid Getting Fired Because of Social Media

Taryn is not a good role model for corporate America, but her dad has some pretty good advice, and her friends show how good and bad behaviour can also be contextual. Racism, harassment and revealing company secrets will get you fried from any job, but the requirements of professionalism vary from industry to industry.

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Megan Purdy

Former recruiter, HR pro and Workology editor. Comics, cheese and political economy.

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