Social Media Site Got Her Fired – Fair or Unfair?

I’m still in shock reading about this story in a recent “Dear Abby” column.  A candidate for a position was hired, but on her first day of work was called into the Human Resources office to be ‘let go.’  The reason noted was because of photos that were on her website from her job as a model for a local department store; which were posted right next to photos of her children and family.  According to the article, the photos were not revealing or provocative, but skin was showing.  An internal employee in the company had applied for the same position, Googled the new hire, and complained to the Human Resources department.

Let’s Play Devils Advocate:

Human Resources: Did anyone in the hiring department Google the candidate before or after the interview and before the hiring decision was made?  Did the interviewer think to ask if the candidate’s modeling job entailed showing flesh? If not, bad on you.  Do you have a written company policy that is in an employee handbook or policy guide noting the new hire that any web photos that might ‘embarrass’ the company should be immediately pulled and any found after hire might evolve into termination?  Probably not.

The company and hiring professionals went through the entire hiring process, and this should have involved a background check – including social media sites.  This stinks of sloppy hiring processes and procedures, as well as sloppy background and investigative steps.  Does your application form ask if the candidates have social media sites with materials, graphics, or photos that might be inappropriate to the nature and branding of the company for which they’ve applied for a position?  Then if not, you have NOT played fair in the game.

Whether this candidate was currently working at another job or not, you OWE them compensation for your bungling (and this is assuming that the company failed to get proper investigation and background check done in a reasonable time period AND notify the applicants this investigation would be completed before they could start work).  If the candidate quit another job (especially in this economy), and now has no second option for employment waiting outside this job, you owe them compensation worth at least two weeks pay in lieu of notice – even if she didn’t get a chance to show her professional capabilities.

The shame on the company is they fired the new hire before they gave her an opportunity to delete or privatize the photos on her social media site.  It still wouldn’t do much good, if she had posed as a model for photos published in the local store’s catalogs or advertising, they are still ‘out there’ in the universe – whether on the Internet or pinned onto some teen boy’s bedroom wall.  What the HR department did was a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction.  I hope the company will re-think what they did for future hires and set up a policy, as well as invest in proper hiring procedures before they make this mistake again.  Perhaps an application form section which asks candidates what social media sites to which they belong?  (Hey Lawyers:  Is this legal to ask?)

Yes – most states have an ‘at will’ capability for hiring and firing, and this article noted it was in the ‘south’ but didn’t name the state.  If the company was unionized, the result may have been a different story.

Another question – when and where did the squealer find this information?  Was it on her home computer or was she ‘cruising’ the Internet for fun and profit at work?  Check their Internet browser history on the computer.  If this employee found this information at work, why hasn’t your IT team blocked every employee’s access to Facebook, MySpace, and the ‘social’ media sites to ensure that real work is being accomplished at work on the company’s payroll?

Internal Employee: You were not chosen as the candidate to fill the position so you are using underhanded, unethical means to get rid of your competition.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  Did you get the position you craved or did they go out to seek another candidate more qualified than you because you are still NOT qualified enough?  Now that everyone knows you are a snitch – your honesty, integrity, and business ethics will be questioned as long as you work in that company.  No one will trust you to be on their side or want to deal with you as long as they know you’ll squeal on every little thing – even if has nothing to do with work.  What we don’t know is if you squealed on the new candidate to get her job or because you were second on list.

It would have been more appropriate, if you were determined to tattle on the new hire, to tell the Human Resources department they should speak with the new hire about privatizing their website versus telling them how offended you were.  What were you doing – spying on the new hire – anyway?  It does take a little effort to search through all those photo albums!  This was not a simple – “whoops, I stumbled across these photos and they are so offensive to me” – act of innocence.  This was a track her down and find something dirty or nasty to tattle on the new hire to get her out of your way.

Job Candidate: Are you nuts?  Get those photos that reveal more than your arms and legs into ‘privacy’ setting on your Social Media sites – yesterday!  If you don’t know how to do it – then get a Social Media Manager to do it for you.  This is a libelous, competition rich world out there, and if you give them any reason to question your background, ethics, integrity, and business professionalism, companies will use that one thing to drop you being considered for any position.  You won’t even know that they were considering you because they saw your social site, didn’t like what they saw, then moved on to the next candidate.

Unfortunately, this may be water under the bridge, BUT I would still get an employment lawyer to contact the company and ask for two weeks pay in lieu of notice or some type of compensation for the embarrassment, the sloppy way they hired and then fired you, and possible compensation for pain and suffering – now you have to start the employment and career search all over again!

For those of you who might be in the same situation, go to and search for yourself.  You might be very surprised at what you find is ‘out there’ with your name on it.

Dawn Boyer is a doctoral student at Old Dominion University in the Darden College of Education, working on a PhD in Occupational Studies and Technology) focusing on Training and Development in Human Resources, as well as working as a (Doctoral) Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching computer science and technology classes to undergraduate students.

Ms. Boyer has over 20 years of senior management experience in human resources, of which nine years is in the defense-contracting arena. She also provides HR consulting via D. Boyer Consulting to entrepreneurs and small businesses, including growing 8(a) defense companies in the Hampton Roads, VA area. She also provides LinkedIn and Resume Writing classes to individuals and groups.

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Follow her on Twitter: @Dawn_Boyer.

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2 Responses

  1. You must have been aware about MA resident Lindsey Stone’s story. She got fired from her job after posting a photo on Facebook posing with a raised middle finger in front the sign of tomb of Unknowns at D.C. So we should satart minding our social profiles definitely

  2. I agree with the sentiment of what you write. This whole situation is unfortunate for the job canidate. However, the bottom line is “at will employment” (as you mention). As long as the new hire was not fired for a protected reason, there’s no case. Don’t put anything on the Internet – period. I don’t care about privacy settings, etc. Facebook changes privacy policies at will. They control the information you post. It’s not yours to control. (Ironically, the photos this woman posted are probably not her intellectual property.) We are living in the wild west of Internet ethics, manners, policy. There are few laws to guide or protect here.

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