More Companies Firing People Over Social Media (Mis)use

By: Doug Caverly - August 27, 2009

Employees should be more careful than ever about what sort of work-related information they post online.  A new report indicates that companies are growing increasingly aware of inappropriate sharing, with many incidents resulting in someone getting fired.

Proofpoint found that businesses have definitely become wary about blogs.  An official statement claimed that, during the past year, "17 percent disciplined an employee for violating blog or message board policies, while nearly nine percent reported terminating an employee for such a violation (both increases from 2008, 11 percent and six percent, respectively)."

It seems that firms are aware of YouTube and Facebook, as well.  The report indicated that eight percent of corporations (each) got rid of people for violating policies pertaining to multimedia sites and social networks.

Finally, if employees figured they were safe using the relative newcomer, Twitter, they should think again.  Proofpoint reported that 13 percent of U.S. companies investigated "exposure incidents" involving Twitter and Twitter-like services.


You might interpret this as evidence that people should learn to keep their mouths shut (and/or fingers still).  A more charitable view is that perhaps social media sites should make their privacy notices and options more visible.  Regardless, it looks like social media is starting to have a significant impact in the workplace.

Doug Caverly

About the Author

Doug CaverlyDoug is a staff writer for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest eBusiness news.

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  • Bloke

    The majority of companies will obtain absolutely no fiscal benefit
    by allowing staff yet another internet distraction, for the handful whom can genuinely justify access to such sites & services I can’t help but wonder what percentage of these are lawfirms.

    White List Black List – Mary Jane is employed and as such Mary Jane should value add to your business by providing you with a justifiable return on your salary investment.
    Hence Mary Jane’s supplied computer and internet & email access should only allow Mary Jane access to web sites which provide the tools required for Mary Jane to do her job IE: minimize your exposure by minimizing your staffs exposure – If the URL is not going to value add or aide your business activity BLOCK it, if the email address is not going to aide your customers & or your business activities BLOCK it:
    I am a firm believer in White List Only internet and email access in the workplace and yes I do get called nasty names – Bite Me: haven’t lost a keystroke of data in 20yrs aint going to change it now and grant access to some internet fad.

    • Guest

      Wow. So many things I want to say here.

      First, and least important, is that I find it interesting that the posts promoting full access to these sites are by people who can’t write a complete and proper sentence.

      As a manager, I try to maintain a level of trust with my direct reports. As hinted at in a previous post, the relationship between employer and employee is mutual. The employee provides a service, and the employer pays for the service. If one side or the other takes advantage of that, it’s time to terminate the relationship and move on.

      As with any relationship, there has to be a level of trust. I trust my people to get the job done and to work hard when the need is there. They also are given the freedom to take a break when needed without restrictions (within reason) of what they do on their break. I don’t need to put restrictions on what can be viewed on the web. I trust my people. I would hate working in an environment where there was no trust, either as an employer or an employee.

      All that being said, people should be very careful about abuse, just like they would about the phone, or taking long lunches. It will cause problems, as it is a violation of trust.

      • Guest

        What to do when the manager’s are the abuser? Who then thinks it okay to let everyone under them freely roam the internet? To bad that falls back on the I.T. department to police the company…

    • Guest

      Right on. Why does the employer have to give the “value added” all the time.

      I give my children chores to do everyday. Things they will do in the adult life ahead of them. I DON’T pay them to make the bed, clean the room, wash the dishes, takeout the trash, ……. you get the point.

      I don’t pay my employees extra for NOT abusing the internet i don’t pay them extra to be on time, or not steal , or not lie.

      So subsequently I don’t pay them to play on the internet OR text under the edge of the desk hiding the cell phone. As a matter of fact I dont allow cell phones on the property ( in the office) they stay in the car. Any phone call are made from and to the office just like in the old days 1985.

  • Guest

    I am also a supporter of blocking those resources which my users do not have a business-related need to access. If they want to “talk” to people on Facebook, then by all means let them do so – at home. At every company I’ve worked for, the lesson has always been the same – users cannot be trusted to adhere to usage policies no matter how well they are policed.

  • Jason

    You guys are so dumb…. When ppl work they are not in jails having a digital bondage.

    Internet must be free to use in a work place… that boosts the employees morale and you get better results folks….

    • Carl

      If you have time to spend on social networks at work good luck to you.

      I can’t see how they improve work morale as most of the stuff I have read on these sites is either bitching or ego stroking.

      You right workplaces aren’t meant to be jails but places of mutual respect between employee and employer.

      • JustAnotherAnonymousReader

        With all due respect, I would like to point out here that the more you treat employees with respect, the less likely you will have problems.

        Instead of blocking the internet, the better task would be to educate and enforce the internet policy . For example, allow usage of internet as long as the employee completes his task assigned on time. All of us know that every one can manage to get a few mins off esp when there is a lot of stress. If you give the employee a choice …it is always appreciated.

        It is when the productivity of the employee is in question then more stringent measures need be taken.

        After all why make the entire company lose privileges just for prohibiting the bad habits of a few.

        Just my few cents.

        • Guest

          Are you kidding? OK so if the policy is do your work and then when you are finished do the other work you have and then when thats complete finish the rest of the work. When doe it become a mandatoryThis is part of the work day to chatty chat with your friends?

          This is a joke.Use the computer for fun time during your break which is mandated by law. Don’t create another slack off period to fiddle around on the internet and chip away at productivity.

          If you had a pool hall in the office should you allow the employees to play pool during the day? after all it is right in the office. Why would that be any different. Or open a bar people sometimes like to relax with a drink and after all they do better work.

    • Guest

      nice try the WORKplace is just that, a place you do work, taking time from your work to post on twitter or your blog is stealing company materials, internet connections are not free, the company pays for it, the computer used to make the post, they pay for that too, and guess what the time your are taking to make that post, yea, they are paying for that too.

      no they are not jails but unproductive people increase the work load for their team mates, eventually those team mates will have had enough and stop covering for you, results, your fired

      i worked for a fortune 500 in the HR department, i was required to submit in writing why i needed internet access, the sites i needed to access and why, i needed to justify access to internal and external systems, at one point they even cut off my internet access… job, web and database development, and my internet was restricted…in other words deal with it or find a company that pays you to screw around

      • Norm

        So by extension when the blackberry goes off on Saturday and I’m using my computer and my internet access to fix someone else’s screw-up, is the company stealing from me? If you just want a bunch of drones who punch in, punch out, can’t think outside the box, and regard the company as little more than a paycheck; by all means treat them like children. Allowing someone 5 minutes here and there to do personal stuff during the day makes for a more pleasant work environment. Sometimes you just need to distract yourself from the problem at hand for a few minutes so the solution will come to you. Sure fire unproductive team members, but it’s attitudes like yours that drive good people away. Considering that I can’t pick up a business rag with out seeing an article talking about how to get and retain good people, most companies should lighten up on this kind of stuff and forget about “Hawaiian shirt day”.

        Posting sensitive and potentially embarrassing content online (the actual subject of this article) is entirely another matter.

        • Ed

          We’ve tried opening up the internet to all, to bad people weren’t usually on social networking sites, but others that liked to install spywayre/virii and other such non-sense. The employees get this crazy idea that the computer is their’s and they can do whatever they want with it….including getting angry at other employees when they use it. On top of all this, when customers would come in, they wouldn’t even notice them due to being on the internet. They all said that they were to busy to do anything, so the rest of the company’s work load doubled, because they wanted to play on MySpace, Facebook, Twiiter, YouTube etc etc. It’s kind of dumb, you would think that we are all adults (at least in the company i work for) and that they would be responsible enough to use the internet responsibly. Unfortunately reality prevails and every one gets punished for the few.

    • Guest

      Flex your freedom on your own time. I don’t pay to have employees ride the internet. I have seen this time after time when visiting retail stores in my city.I walk into a store the employee is stuck to the phone texting away does not look up or acknowledge me or any customers. If the owner knew this they would hopefully fire them.

      When people start sending text or facebook or myspace you don’t see a minute of lost time they parlay back and forth for hours. Thus some other person(s) are neglecting work as well.

      I have installed detection software on all 18 computers in this office which results in regular terminations. So good luck in the work force and keeping your job.

      To all employers FIRE away. We hire people to work and when these people learn face to face interaction sells a product not the hidden life style of texting

  • Guest

    This article isn’t even talking necessarily about internet usage in the workplace. This is talking about the things people post to social media that’s work related.


    • Bloke

      I agree with your observation, I was simply imparting my view in reference to the workplace as this is how I know of & where I use ProofPoints excellent products.

    • agency collection

      What happen to freedom of speech in this country?

  • Drexlus

    I am a network admin for a school district. We are training a workforce that is encouraged to do these things online and making them believe it is not just okay, but expected. You wouldn’t believe how many times a week I hear that students need to create and share online, that is the “true indication of mastery.” I’m no teacher, but having been around education for the last decade, I can easily see where people would believe this type of behavior is acceptable. BTW, I am at work right now…luckily, *I* am the one who would be busting people for doing this, and I’m not about to rat myself out.

    • Guest

      I think the issue is two fold, although I cannot disagree with you at all really.

      I think that more that people are posting work related specific data online. Wither it’s “My boss is a jerk” to data about stuff that could be considered insider information.

      Second, they are also maybe wasting more time on these social media websites than they are working. which is a bad example for many new people who will follow suite.

  • Guest

    A person with a personal data enabled mobile phone could still gain access to the Internet and not use any of a companies Internet resources. I guess a company can have policy not to allow personal mobile phones in the workplace. And some do. Specially camera phones.

  • Guest

    There can be no hard and fast rule when it comes to this. It is going to depend on the work environment. If you are in a production driven environment, then even taking 5 minutes to post or read something is going to negatively impact not only your own production, but your departments as well. On the other hand, if you work in a reception area, you don

  • Dustin

    I think this is just going to cause resentment and hurt bigger companies with this mentality.

    I understand firing someone for posting something work related, such as I hate my boss, but to punish someone for time management.

    If they are completing all tasks at hand and are pleasing their managers, boss, ceo, etc. then there is no problem, but then you go on there social network site and saw they made a tweet that says what they thinking about having for lunch and you get mad for lack of productivity… You would have no idea there was a lack of productivity. So you guys just want to create a big untrustworthy relationship between employers and employees, and pit them against each other more?

  • Evct Hosting

    “You might interpret this as evidence that people should learn to keep their mouths shut (and/or fingers still). A more charitable view is that perhaps social media sites should make their privacy notices and options more visible. Regardless, it looks like social media is starting to have a significant impact in the workplace.”

    This is the only thing that stuck out to me in the above article. This is a very simple fix. The employer and his I.T. Department(s) need to implement a create a win win solution for the company and the employees. There are a dozen hardware appliances that have the filtering policies & capabilities to allow sites to be blocked and set to be open at times predefined to groups of users. It

    • ScienceLives

      I see a couple of issues with that … I got the feeling from the article (I could be wrong) that the issue is more with employees posting negative/sensitive information about the company, which may or may not actually be posted from the workplace. As well, presumably the PR or marketing department would still need to access social media sites for posting on behalf of the company … unless the company in question is behind the times.

      • Kevin Webb

        I couldn’t tell if the PROBLEM AT HAND was that it was because social networking sites were being used at work, or because they were being used “Against Policy” at home. The article is very unclear.


  • Zara Lemon

    I find this worrying – especially that case where a woman got the sack for supposedly lying about having time off for a headache “because she was having fun on facebook

    – this kind of thing shouldn’t be used as conclusive evidence of wrong doing – there are other factors that play a role – for example using above – exactly which panel of experts I wonder did the employers consult before coming to the conclusion that an ill person can’t portray a more positive side of their character on-line ?

    I get the feeling people are jumping to conclusions, without considering all the facts making snap judgments based solely on their opinions of what they think they understand or saw

    – i.e before we know relaxing on her pc/mac might have eased her migraine symptoms, virtually ‘mucking about’ might have made her focus elsewhere rather than the pain – instead they jumped to the conclusion that the woman was playing them for a fool – and sacked her.

    If I was that woman I would sue them for something!

    Remember – people with NO LEGS can run/sprint jumpabout on the Internet with virtual legs – it doesn’t mean they are cheating the system or lying, pretending to have no legs does it !?

  • Guest

    I agree supporters of blocking those resources which my users do not have a business-related need to access.

  • FaTe

    Here in the Netherlands there is active Government TV advert:

    “Women on top a building throwing pictures of herself into the street in all sorts of poses wearing next to nothing, Then she starts shouting out her personal info over a speaker phone continuing to show herself on the beech over a projection on a building wall across the street”

    The essential message is the same but I have not seen any other such advertising anywhere else….

    If on-line social interaction can effect out job roles so much then how long until they simply ask on application forms for your Youtube channel, twitter address, facebook account etc……..

  • ian_g

    …just for prohibiting the bad habits of a few.

    The simple answer to this is the matter of “victimisation”.

    Employment law itself can be fairly complex. It would be impossible to specify rules governing the use of individual websites and social media networks. It would also be impossible to specify between the types of comments/interaction which may or may not be carried out.

    It is easy however OK to be general in terms of restrictions, such as: no pornography, no gambling, not bringing the business into disrepute etc. By making rules in this fashion and ensuring that they apply to EVERYONE, then a company can avoid the issue of victimisation.

    A sound IT policy can only be backed up so far with infrastructure and security. It is down to the employee to provide the rest of the picture through understanding (and adherence to) IT policies.

    As so many have said above, why should an employee be given the right to carry out their social activities on an employers time, at an employers expense? If you wanna socialise – go work in a bar!

    That said… there are many companies out there whose IT policies are not very well written to say the least (although I am only speaking from a UK pov). Quite a few dismissals in relation to these violations are actually illegal because of the poor contruction of these policies, however they have got away without through the employees ignorance.

    Businesses need to proactively update their IT policies and review them regularly due to the speed of change in this IT world. They also must ensure their policies are fair and not unduly restrictive, and finally they must ensure adherance to procedures.

    That said… I think social networking is a medium which will not enjoy that long a life. A lot of people I know have already moved away from it, along with myself. It is too time consuming and artificial and personally – I’d rather go down the pub and chat with friends!

  • Guest

    I can not believe all the people that have this sense of entitlement to use the internet for personal use while on the job! Would it be ok to be on the phone for half an hour or more chatting with friends at work? NO!, so why should it be ok to be on social networking sites? I work at home now in my own business, but when I worked in finance, we had restricted access. We couldn’t check our email etc. We could get written up and eventually fired for using the internet for anything but business use. That’s what it is there for – BUSINESS use – not personal use. It’s no different than stealing office supplies. They are there for you to use in relation to your work. Not for you to take and use for your own personal entertainment etc. No company owes you the right to use the internet for your own personal uses. NONE! If you happen to work for a company that does, consider yourself lucky. As to why a company should care – how about this – I nearly got fired from a retail job once for calling into a radio station during my dinner break. The DJ asked where I worked and I told him. The owner of the store was furious because he felt it gave the impression that his employees had nothing better to do. What impression is it giving the worls if a company’s employees can sit and spend ages on the internet each day socializing? Not to mention, what example does it set for other employees? Just because one person gets their work done doesn’t mean it’s ok to go online and have fun on company time. It encourages other employees to do it, and they may not get all their work done, or even be able to tell if you’ve got yours done. As for freedom of speech – this has nothing to do with it. Some copanies actually have it in their work policies that you are not allowed to share any company info and that you are not allowed to represent the company in any way other than as instructed. If you go oposting aobut your employer on blogs and Facebook and Twiiter, you are representing that company and effecting the public’s image, whether you mean to or not. If you get canned for – it’s your own stupidity. Bottom line NO company OWES you the right to access the internet for your own personal use. None. Period.

  • Kevin Webb

    Are the “social network rules” ones that apply to employees just while at work, or are they getting in trouble by the CONTENT they are publishing like political views, company gossip, etc.?

    How do companies see what one of their employees are doing/saying if you have your privacy settings turned on?

  • Guest

    This is a very interesting debate. I have worked for several companies that have very different policies for internet usage and overall employee freedom. My previous employer was like most owners / managers that say the internet and employee privileges should be highly restricted and closely monitored. It was a midsized company and the morale and productivity were as low as other companies I had worked for with these same policies. I currently work for a company that is MUCH more flexible in not only internet usage, but also flexible regarding breaks, socializing, etc. If you are getting burned our, go play some ping-pong, or go shoot hoops on the basketball court. If you need a quick breather, go read some interesting article on the internet or check out the latest on YouTube. It is AMAZING to me the difference in morale and productivity. But, in just talking to people and walking around the office, there are VERY FEW who exploit these privileges. And in the past, those that do continually exploit these privileges are eventually terminated. And as for the computer virus / spyware issue, there are MANY relatively inexpensive pieces of hardware / software that will eliminate 99.999% of all possible threats and an internet surfing policy (in terms of sites to avoid, etc.) eliminates the other .0001%.

    One of the reasons I think this works SO well is that people around here know how it is everywhere else where all of the privileges are taken away, and they do not want to be in that environment. So, as a result, the job comes first and privilege comes second. I am going to do the best I can so I will be able to keep this job and enjoy the perks when it is appropriate. And 4 years ago when I took this job, I took a 7% pay cut from my then current employer because I understood the benefit of this environment. My wife and kids do as well as I don’t have nearly as much stress to bring home from work.

    I understand that not all work environments have the ability to implement policy like this and it would be something VERY difficult to introduce into a strict company. But if and when it is done right, everyone wins.

  • Sarah

    Employers need to BLOCK social-networking websites via firewalls, and they need to butt out of employees’ personal social-networking business. If an employee is taking time off, it is really none of the employers’ business what they are doing while they are off.

    On the other hand, if an employee is abusing social-networking on the job, after being warned numerous times, that employee should be terminated.