Is It Legal to be Fired Over a Facebook Post?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being fired
over a Facebook post:

I had a word spat with a co-worker and after going home and venting my frustrations to my boyfriend, he took it upon himself to message my co-worker on Facebook and threaten to “kick his as$.” I was fired for this threat 3 days letter. Is this legal? Do I not have a leg to stand on even though I didn’t do anything wrong? I had worked for this company for nearly 19 years.

Signed-Concerned Nurse

Dear Concerned Nurse:

To be fired after 19 years with your company, I’m sure, strikes you as hasty and overly severe. My empathetic, quick and not legally informed answer to your question “Is this legal?” is probably it’s legal.  Our site states up front Our expertise is workplace communication, not legal or medical. We list sites to which you might submit legal and medical questions.

What might you do to get a legal answer is to consult an attorney. Sometimes by phone an attorney will tell you without charge if you have a case. Personal threats to do harm to someone is serious. Your boyfriend’s public Face Book threat to your coworker–to “kick his as$” can be considered more than tough talk. If he or you check this out you will find a threat is against the law. OnLine Nolo spells this out: “A criminal threat involves one person threatening someone else with physical harm.”

The issue before you is what to do now. If you have had a good record of performance for 19 years, I suggest that you meet with Human Resources to request reconsideration. There you might express that you understand it was wrong for you to spat with your coworker and to take that to your boyfriend and it was very wrong for him to threaten your coworker and to post it on Face Book. A contrite admission and offer to apologize might result positively, possibly in a transfer. Or at least such a conversation could inform you if your company would speak well of your long tenure, and recommend your employment elsewhere.”

Now it is time for you to think forward and avoid bitterness or blame of your coworker or boyfriend. Life is short and we all make mistakes. Fortunately you are in a career which is much needed. If you have not already, begin a job search.

Over the next few weeks, see this as a learning experience and a time to count the good things you have going for you. If you actually list them, those feel good instances, you fill find they add up to a positive attitude, so important to your personal and at work relationships. Treat yourself well–you know what makes you feel good–such as music, books, workouts, good food, adding greens to your apartment and giving of yourself to those less fortunate.

I hope these thoughts help a bit to cope this unhappy time. Please know that you have reached out to someone who cares and want the  best for you. Do update us on what you do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I predict you will weather this.

–William Gorden

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Hello,
Frequently Dr. Gorden and I add to the response of the other and I’ll do so about your question.

In most jobs, unless there is a contractual agreement or a state law requirement, an employee’s employment can be terminated for essentially no reason except, “Your continued employment is not in the best interests of our business.” I expect that was the thinking behind the decision to fire you. It may have been a reaction to the threats made by your boyfriend, or it may have been based on what was considered the totality of the circumstances.

Some other ways your employer may have looked at it: If you had a verbal disagreement with a coworker, it may have not been the first time for some degree of conflict. There may have been other issues related to your work or behavior. Or, the disagreement may have been about something for which the manager or others sided with the other employee and felt you were in the wrong. Or, it may be that you were viewed as seeming to be more angry than your coworker, which made you appear more hostile. It may be that the coworker has more influence with those higher-up than you do, in spite of your tenure. You know best about what has been happening at work and how solid your employment status was, up until this event.

Then, the threatening message was sent, and that tipped the scales against you dramatically. Management (whoever that consists of in your work) probably thought that for your boyfriend to be that angry, you must have been very angry yourself and perhaps even put your boyfriend up to making the threat. It’s one thing to suspect that people talk negatively about bosses and coworkers at home, but it is unnerving to realize they talk to such an extent that they stir up others to the point of making threats.

Further, if you work in a professional office, as I assume you do, given your signature as a nurse, I would expect the idea of being threatened in a direct way, on a personal message, was a very dramatic occurrence. It was probably seemed frightening and out-of-control. The perception would have tipped the scales even more. Reports of workplace violence are not exaggerated and are a cause for concern. So, if it appears someone has the potential to either cause a problem or inadvertently inspire some sort of violent act in others, managers have a responsibility to try to prevent it.

The bottom line is that your employers most likely acted within the scope of their authority to terminate your employment. It may be that no one wanted you to be fired and they may have regretted having to make the decision. But, if something happened in the future, they could be viewed as negligent for not reacting more strongly to the recent occurrence. Whatever happened at work, the essential cause of your firing was the threatening message. Even if it hadn’t contained a physical threat, it was wrong for your boyfriend to communicate at all about an issue in your workplace, just as you would not contact someone at his workplace and berate them. (He probably realized it, the minute he hit “enter” and the message was sent.)

I’m sorry this happened and I hope you are quickly able to find a place to use your knowledge and skills.

Best wishes to you. Let us know how things work out.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors