In June this year, an American woman, Lexi Larson, openly discussed her expenses on the social media app Tiktok. In her video, Lexi, from Denver, Colorado, also shared that she’d just landed a new job in the tech industry, and along with it, a US$20,000-a-year pay increase.
It seemed innocuous enough – Lexi even mentioned that she was enjoying her job, as reported in the New York Post – but her bosses didn’t approve of the video and fired her over it.
They “really, really did not like” that she was sharing her salary, according to a follow-up video she posted, two weeks after the previous one.
“They said (that) me having this account was a security concern because I could post something private about the company,” she explained.
“I asked, ‘Have I broken any policies? Have I posted anything on Tiktok that is a security concern?’ And they said, not at this time I have not, but it could happen at any time in the future, so they’re just not going to take that risk.”
To post or not to post?
If you have a personal social media account and a job, you’re likely aware that what you like, post, share and comment on can have an impact on your professional position as well as on your company.
Some organisations have a social media policy. Some are embedded as clauses within your contract, while others are part of the code of conduct. They essentially specify how employees should conduct themselves online and provide guidance on the use of social media at work – so we know that we could face disciplinary action, lose our job or even get into legal trouble if we posted content that our company deemed unacceptable.
The truth is that employees need to be careful about how they curate their social media presence, as potential employers are watching, says Richa Doyle, director of Page Personnel Singapore. Oversharing can be misconstrued and have a negative impact on your job application.
But what about “grey area” posts about, say, how overworked we are or how much we dislike our company’s new dress code, or even seemingly harmless gripes about the questionable food in the office canteen? Can calling out bad behaviour, exposing unfairness or venting land you in hot water with your higher-ups? Where do you draw the line between what’s an acceptable social media post and what’s not?
“There are certain things many employees know they can’t or shouldn’t share on social media,” says Kulvinder Kaur, a partner at local law firm I.R.B. Law LLP.
“Generally, this includes anything your company defines as gross misconduct and anything that could easily be seen as defamatory, obscene, racist, sexist, threatening, violent, bullying or harassing.”
Kulvinder adds: “Revealing company secrets online and talking about news that’s yet to be released are also big nonos. Your company’s social media policy should specify what would constitute a breach of contract or grounds for dismissal. Companies that don’t have a social media policy might send out advisories from time to time, and if they don’t, then their HR manager would determine what employees can and can’t post.”
Your salary is not a grey area topic, Kulvinder points out. She says that your employment contract would likely have a pay-secrecy clause. Such a clause exists for various reasons, from masking pay differences between employees doing the same job, to preventing employees from seeking better opportunities with the competition.
Richa agrees: “There are no positive consequences of posting your salary online, as it’s a sensitive issue. Your salary is based on variables, which can be taken out of context.”
Should you leave social media out of it?
Should you even be posting about work to begin with? Paul Heng, founder of human resources organisation Next Career Consulting Group, Asia, says “absolutely not”.
“Even if you’ve just come from a fun team-building event, there’s no need to talk about it on social media. Why? That’s the company’s business and nobody else needs to know about it.”
Page Personnel’s Richa has a different view. For many progressive companies, it serves as a way of attracting talent. She says: “Depending on your company’s code of conduct, posting about benefits or positive experiences show how progressive the company is, and can be considered as ‘free branding’ for talent acquisition and retention.”
It’s also tempting to want to throw shade at an annoying boss or complain about being overlooked for a promotion, but Paul says that if you have any negative feedback about your role, team or boss, the first person you should go to is your HR manager.
“It’s not only childish to unload your work problems on social media, it’s unprofessional too. If you feel that you’ve been victimised or are upset about something job-related, the proper way to address it is to reach out to someone in HR. Venting on social media accomplishes nothing. If the issue is to do with your company or someone in your company, it should go through the proper channels and be dealt with internally.”
Claims of workplace abuse – remember the Night Owl Cinematics saga last year? – are also too important to be shared on social media, and should be taken straight to your HR department. You might feel you are doing the right thing by exposing what you believe is “unfairness”, but being accused of defamation is also a very real possibility, and once your comments are out there, they can’t be taken back.
Kulvinder adds that if you post something that in your mind is funny, like a joke about your boss’ clothes, for instance, you shouldn’t assume that your higher-ups will laugh along with you.
“Even if you argue that there was no malicious intent behind your post, your company may view such content as hurtful or damaging to its reputation. In this case, it would be up to your company’s HR and legal teams to determine whether you crossed the line or not.”
Could your social media content get you in trouble or work against you professionally?
Kulvinder Kaur, a partner at I.R.B. Law LLP shares her take on three examples.
1. Heavy workload
“This may reflect your inability to manage your workload, so it’s best not to share this on social media. If you’re struggling with your workload, you should discuss it with your boss.”
2. Dirty office toilets or unsanitary work environment
“Such complaints may be seen as putting the company in a bad light. Your company would have to decide if you acted maliciously. To this end, they may ask questions like, did you bring these problems to HR’s attention first? What exactly did you say in your post? Did you share photos and videos too?”
“Most employment contracts have a pay-secrecy clause. Sharing your salary would likely be a breach of your contract and possibly grounds for dismissal. You could even be terminated without notice. Most companies take this clause very seriously.”