Facebook Photo Prompts Firing

This “vet of the year” award winner went too far online–and as a result she lost his job. Our resident blogger Robin Paggi explores the legalities of the employer’s action.

Facebook Photo Prompts Firing

The latest Facebook post that got an employee fired was a picture of the employee holding a cat with an arrow through its head along with these words: “My first bow kill lol. The only good feral tomcat is one with an arrow through it’s (sic) head! Vet of the year award…gladly accepted.”

Vet of the year award? What’s that about? Turns out the employee was a veterinarian who worked for The Washington Animal Clinic in Brenham, Texas. The vet’s post went on to say: “And no I did not lose my job. Psshh. Like someone would get rid of me. I’m awesome.” Except that after the post went viral and, according to a story on http://www.kbtx.com, the animal clinic received over 500 phone calls in one day about it, she was gotten rid of.

Was it legal for the clinic to fire her? Yes, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is because a post like this one is not protected. Many employers are aware that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ Facebook posts when they discuss the terms and conditions of their employment. Because such discussions are considered to be “protected concerted activity,” employers may not discipline employees for them. Therefore, it is generally illegal to fire employees when they post things like “I’m overworked and underpaid,” or “my boss is an idiot,” or that type of thing.

However, many people have come to believe that employers may not fire employees for any of their Facebook posts. Not true. The farther a post strays from talking about the terms and conditions of employment, the less likely it is protected. Thus, bragging about killing a cat – not protected. (Regardless, consult an attorney before firing for Facebook posts).

The second reason is because the vet presented a conflict of interest for her employer. It is generally illegal for employers to discipline employees for conduct that occurs during nonworking hours away from the workplace. One exception to that is if the nature of the conduct disrupts the employer’s operations. For example, having to answer 500 phone calls, or to lose business because of the employee’s actions.

As Dr. Bruce Buenger, a representative of the clinic, said, “Our goal now is to go on and try to fix our black eye and hope that people are reasonable and understand that those actions don’t anyway portray what we’re for here at Washington Animal Clinic. We put our heart and soul into this place.” (Again, consult an attorney before firing).

Despite the controversy, the vet still has some supporters, such as one who said, “She’s amazing. She’s caring. She’s a good vet, so maybe her bad choice of posting something on Facebook was not good. But I don’t think she should be judged for it.”

Oh, but she is being judged for it. Especially because an animal rescue group has since determined that the cat that the vet killed was not feral after all, but was owned by an elderly couple.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Robin last wrote for us on making it OK for employees to ask for your help and before that on working in Family-Run Businesses. Before that she wrote on There’s More to Motivating Than Money;  Love at Work: How Should Employers Respond, and prior to that about lessons for employers in the Brian Williams matter.  Prior to that she wrote about giving employees a second chance. Before that she wrote about making sure the applicant is a good fit for the job and before that about  cure for inappropriate behavior at work. Before that she wrote about cyberloafing, on business lessons from a Christmas story and before that about cell phone policies at work. She has also written for us on rules for holiday parties at work and before that about preventing workplace bullying.

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