The answer is yes and no. An employee can be held liable for what they post on social networking sites even if they post it after work hours using their own hardware. An employer should execute a reasonable social media policy to make sure standards are understood. Reasonable policies do include the right of employers to restrict use of company equipment and spending company time on non-work activities. These policies need to be consistently enforced. However employers should review their policies to ensure they aren’t limiting protected employee speech and to be sure they are reasonable. Simply having illegal policies in place that restrict protected employee speech can get your company in trouble.
What is protected employee speech? For example one protected employee speech is that employees have the right to discuss working conditions. They have the right to discuss their working conditions in the office as well as on Facebook. If you’re running a reputable employee centric company then termination should be your last concern. Your first concern is to fix any of the conditions the employee is actually complaining about. You don’t want to promote such activities like complaining on social networks so the way the employee went about their problem should be addressed, but then you as the employer need to ensure there are ways for employees to report unsatisfactory conditions.
There have been reports of employees being fired for photos of them drinking alcoholic beverages. Now you may want to weigh the pros and cons of having such an employee around. Does such behavior/posts disrupt the workplace or their work capabilities? If it does not directly affect their work or others work then you’re better off leaving such posts on social sites alone. If you feel that such behavior gives others a negative outlook on your company then consider having a conversation with them regarding their posts and get them to look at it from the professional company angle.
In conclusion, tread carefully before making any final decision regarding termination. Double check your employees rights, but if they are clearly in the wrong such as posting confidential company material you should consult your HR Department to see if the content can be unpublished and then bring in your employee for a chat. If they’re complaining about a manager however they are protected to do so. Overall, if you’re working on having an employee centric environment be quick to address problems and find a long term fix to negative situations.
For a reference on a situation where a employee’s rights are protected see this USA Today article