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Yesterday, my boss called me into his office and said I was being let go. He told me that it was because I had been posting information about my company online. I presume he means Workplace Stack Exchange, because this is the only real site I use. (Don't worry; I secretly hate my job and am glad this is finally the kick I need to find something new.)

What's really puzzled me, though, is that I don't think I ever posted any information (damaging or non-damaging) that would lead back to my employer. I'm a semi-regular poster (created this temporary account for obvious reason) and have posted several things here on Workplace. I've asked questions about my workplace environment and employer, but I have never, ever:

  • Named my company
  • Used real names of anybody in my company
  • Posted anything from my work computer
  • Given anything that would lead back to my company

I have, however, posted a question about a specific individual I worked with. You would never figure out who they were by reading my post unless you personally knew me (and then you could probably figure it out). I never browse stack exchange from my work computer, but I do sometimes access it from my personal phone. I'm guessing my manager must have overseen what I was reading on my phone.

I feel funny asking this now, but I've got such great advice from this community in the past: what did I do wrong? Other than avoiding browsing Workplace Stack Exchange while I'm the clock, is there anything I can do differently next time so as to not get in trouble? Or is it better just avoiding ever posting anything person?

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    He fired you and you didn't even ask exactly what he was firing you for? – solarflare Feb 21 at 3:51
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    Voted to close, because if you don't know what exactly you were fired for, there is no way we can suggest a way to avoid that. – nvoigt Feb 21 at 6:20
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    A country tag would be helpful – P. Hopkinson Feb 21 at 9:56
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    Does your boss worry about employees who take too many bathroom breaks? Does your boss worry about employees who monitor other employees taking bathroom breaks? I mention these two as examples of cases where a boss could figure out that a thread in SE.Workplace was about his enterprise, even if it was carefully disguised. – Walter Mitty Feb 21 at 11:48
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    When you browse from your cell phone, are you on the company's WiFi or/and VPN? – Nat Feb 21 at 12:00
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I presume he means Workplace Stack Exchange

If you want to know, don't assume, find out. From the question you never posted about your workplace here, or even accessed the site from your work computer. So either you're not telling us something or more probably assuming wrongly.

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    Also in many countries firing some-one on such "basis" would be a straight way to a court. Ask the employee to be specific, which entries had made him fire you and why. – Ister Feb 21 at 7:55
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    Exactly - if you're breaking a specific policy (sharing company information, using social media, etc) you likely have a right to know, depending on your location, what policy you contradicted and how. Your boss could just be vaguely aware you used the site but have no real evidence and is basically fishing for a reason to fire you. By remaining quiet you're practically agreeing that you did what they're accusing you of. – delinear Feb 21 at 12:46
  • @Ister I assume that you meant employer, not employee. – a CVn Feb 21 at 15:57
  • I was wrongly accused of making posts online about our company, which was against policy. It was a formal write up and I refused to sign it indicating that it was not me and that they had made a big assumption based on my personal views being in line with the person that was posting. You should find out and then since you were indeed terminated, make a formal complaint against the company if they are mis-attributing some other comments, your actual comments a likely irrelevant. – Bill Leeper Feb 21 at 16:28
  • @aCVn oh of course. Thanks for pointing out. – Ister Feb 21 at 18:22
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  1. Nobody "secretly hates [their] job." Your attitude shows in behavior, work performance, comments to other employees (which you are assuming never got back to your employer — that's a bad assumption), comments to friends who may also know people you work with, etc. Our world is really, really, really, really small and hiding basic behavioral traits in a public setting is nigh impossible.

  2. If your company doesn't have a policy permitting personal browsing (you didn't say) and you were browsing Stack Exchange or any other website not 100% for the purpose of your employment during work hours.... That's bad juju. If you did and happen to be thinking that no one ever saw you or that it couldn't get back to your employer, then re-read #1.

  3. If you posted about an individual at your company and assumed that no one else in your network of co-workers, friends, associates, etc. have (a) never heard you speak about that individual and (b) don't also use this website... please read #1 again.

  4. You've provided nowhere near enough detail about how your termination was actually decided to know what's going on (from our point of view). Had another employee posted on their Facebook page that they thought you were posting about the company anywhere... there you go. If you really don't know the details about the nature of the post that got you fired then (a) pay better attention, (b) care more about what happens to you, (c) care more about how your company operates, and (d) care more about how your coworkers network.

There are dozens more "what can I do" responses. Some trivial (e.g, "don't complain about your job."), some not (e.g., "trust no one"), but I'll leave you with one more. Choose to be self-protective. Perhaps you should have responded to your employer's announcement with, "I would like a copy of what you believe was my post and a justification for why you believe that expression of free speech — if it was mine — constituted a violation of work ethics, my contract with you, or in any way jeopardized this company's operations. If I walk out of this office without that information in writing you will be hearing from my attorney."

After all, unless you've left something out of the story, it sounds like your employer didn't give you a warning (like sitting you down and explaining, "you know, this isn't very nice of you... how can we work this out?"), and that leaves them open for all kinds of problems.

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    "If you were browsing [...] during work hours.... That's bad juju" - not sure I necessarily agree with this. A lot of companies now recognise the benefit that relaxation can give to their employees' productivity. This may or may not be the case at OP's company but I don't think it's something that you can generalise in such a way. – James Monger Feb 21 at 9:35
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    @JamesMonger, you've made a good point, I should have stated that if it's against company policies and... blah blah blah. I'll make that correction now. Thanks for pointing that out. – JBH Feb 21 at 9:42
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    Point 1 is blatantly false, many people can perfectly hide how they feel about their job. A professional employee will just perform adequately and look for new opportunities, only if you truly resent your job and it's making you unhappy you'll have trouble hiding it. This is a case of confirmation bias, where every time you noticed someone hating their job that was because they couldn't or didn't hide it, and so you now think no one can hide it, but I guarantee you there are under the radar haters too. – Kevin Feb 21 at 9:53
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    @Kevin, then my point 1 is completely valid as none of those people perfectly hid their feelings about their job from you. – JBH Feb 21 at 18:38
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    @JBH No, your point is not valid. You said "shows in behavior, work performance, comments to other employees (...), comments to friends who may also know people you work with". The people I am talking about are not showing it in behaviour, their work performance, not making comments to other employees or to friends who know people they work with. Stop these mental gymnastics. You are clearly talking about hiding that one hates their job in the context of someone at work finding out, I know people, including myself, who have hated a job and who never let anyone at work find out about that. – Kevin Feb 21 at 18:51
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If I had to guess, I'd say either: (A) He wanted to fire you anyway and this was just the excuse he came up with or (B) He actually did stumble upon one of your posts saying negative things about the job and decided to take it personally. The only way to know for sure would be to ask "What post are you referring to?" The only other precaution I can think of for you to take would be to never say anything about your job online.

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    Or (c) the manager doesn't care whether it's true or false or even made it up entirely as an excuse. – StephenG Feb 21 at 15:16
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With all the details that have mentioned in the post (as of this moment, when I post), it may not necessarily be a case of posting/not-posting anything which brings your employer into disrepute or does any harm. (i.e. If you are absolutely sure you did not.)

It may simply be case of the time taken scrolling or contributing to SE during your office time being interpreted as an unproductive wastage of time, when you were expected to be engaged in office chores.

However, I don't think that merely this, in isolation, can be a potent enough reason to take a drastic step such as firing someone. This may (likely) have been an addendum, maybe there were other factors, which gradually accumulated, that any SE-related incident may have been the proverbial last-straw-that-breaks-the-camel's-back. Maybe, they were assessing people's bad performances, and then they witnessed you scrolling SE. That would be a perfect trigger.

At any rate, do not assume good/bad intentions. They definitely owe you an explanation, there may be legal consequences (depending on the local culture) if this is an arbitrary action on the part of the employer. Also, they can not misrepresent the reason, if it is due to under-performance, they have to declare that. If they say you posted information about the company, it is reasonable to expect them to substantiate this part.

You should ask them, explicitly. (Also, if you wanted out of this job, what do you have to lose, anyways.)

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