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The Scenario:

I am from the UK and work for a medium sized multinational as a software developer. In my lunch breaks, I sometimes post to the political blog of a UK news paper from my cell phone.

One of the other posters took offense to one of my posts and then went on Twitter and publicly tweeted to my employer that I was saying offensive things as if I was representing the company.

At no point did I ever identify myself as an employee of the company, nor did I claim that I was speaking on the company's behalf. I have no idea at all how they even knew the identity of my employer.

I'm not mixing my personal life with work. I don't have any work colleagues friended on any of my social media accounts, and nowhere do I identify my current employer beyond liking their Facebook page.

The Problem:

I got pulled up on it by HR and the development manager, and they have asked me to stop posting things and said that it could be taken further, even though I made it clear that I posted the messages as a private individual on my own time, I never at any point revealed any affiliation with the company, and that someone could do the same to them very easily.

I want to make it clear that I consider myself free to post what I like on private matters. How should I proceed from here?

closed as off-topic by CincinnatiProgrammer, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Joe Strazzere, HLGEM, jmac Oct 2 '13 at 0:07

  • This question does not appear to be about the workplace within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Did you use the companies WLAN? In that case either someone from IT might have had a look at your traffic, or whoever identified you simply obtained the IP used for posting and had no trouble linking that back to your company. – Tobias Kienzler Oct 1 '13 at 8:37
  • how do they know who you work for then ? – NimChimpsky Oct 1 '13 at 10:37
  • @NimChimpsky I don't know how they found out for sure because the account I commented on only had my name and a picture and wasn't linked to anything else. My best guess would be they searched my name on Facebook and matched my profile using my picture and then got the company I worked for from my profile page. – user1450877 Oct 1 '13 at 11:24
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    This is a rant not a question and the OP does not want a solution or to understand the companies position. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 1 '13 at 14:49
  • I'm thinking several things here. (1) When you do ANYTHING while the company is paying you, then you are doing this on the company's time. (2) Whenever, you do anything online its associated back to the IP Address that you connected from, and then that can be discovered via whois. (3) Wwhat is the companys Social Media policy? do they have one that you agreed to? – Jez Oct 2 '13 at 16:52
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As requested, I have made significant edits to this for clarity.

The first thing you could do is perhaps escalate it to your manager's supervisor or the director of HR. It's entirely possible that whomever you spoke with simply didn't understand you weren't representing the company. For example, if you wrote a politically related column for your local newspaper and submitted it as a guest essay, chances are your employer would be fine with it, even if someone called to complain. My opinion is that media is media, on- or off-line.

I believe there are certain people (for example: Vice President, PR practitioners) who, regardless of whether they are making an "official statement" or not, need to be aware of what they're saying because it can always be taken as an "official comment." Designated spokespeople need to be particularly cautious of what and when they say, but chances are, you're not a designated spokesperson.

A slightly different angle on this is that, perhaps it's time to seek other opportunities. I'm not suggesting you walk in tomorrow in quit, but rather that it may be time to shop yourself around and look for an organization in which you "fit" better.

If your company doesn't want employees posting to social media about certain topics using their real identities, that's their prerogative. I think it's a bit harsh, but it's not my company. That said, if you want to post online using your real name, that's also your prerogative and your right.

We now live in a society where the anonymity that was formerly associated with the Internet is slowly starting to become a thing of the past. People have lives, jobs, social media accounts, and opinions. There are organizations that understand this, and handle situations such as the one you have described differently. The importance of "fit" in the workplace, in my opinion, cannot be underestimated. You may wish to explore opportunities at companies that have policies that support your ability to offer the type of online, non-anonymous commentary you wish to make.

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    Also folks, please keep in mind that HR works for the CORPORATION, not the employee. Although HR managers will often advocate for an employee, their job is to protect the overall best interest of the organization. – Pete Oct 1 '13 at 2:02
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    Hey Pete, and welcome to The Workplace! We tend to hold answers advising to quit to a very high standard because of the irreversible nature of leaving a job. Could you be so kind as to edit your post to explain why that is the appropriate answer in this situation? – jmac Oct 1 '13 at 8:26
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    @Joe apparently it is. Some people are just looking for affirmation of decisions already made. Still doesn't mean this answer shouldn't be improved for potential future viewers... – jmac Oct 1 '13 at 13:00
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    All, thanks for your feedback. I agree that my initial post may not have been as articulate as possible. I was not trying to suggest OP up and quit, rather that he may wish to seek other opportunities. I have re-written my post and, I think, have articulated my main points much better. Please let me know thoughts. – Pete Oct 1 '13 at 14:35
  • @PeteBekisz - I did not want to quit before this happened, I have been the victim of on-line harassment, my employer should not be acting in concert with the person harassing me to make the harassment even more unpleasant. I have broken no company rules, my comments were not even political or offensive in nature, just a joke at someone's expense. My employer was just upset that the issue was highlighted on their twitter feed. Basicly I am being punished for someone else's behaviour which I have no control over. Not only is it immoral it is completely unprofessional on their part. – user1450877 Oct 1 '13 at 15:55
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Actions have consequences

While your employer can not force you to stop posting political statements, they have been made aware of your posting, and the account has been linked to you personally. If you continue posting using this account then you risk your company taking action against you. It is possible that you are right that you are protected, but the company may have another take on it and may choose to take action against you.

If you feel that your basic human liberties are being denied and really want to challenge that then I would recommend that you contact an attorney and make sure that you are prepared should your company take action. Realize that in these situations you are not likely to come out ahead any time soon.

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    I feel like I am being victimized by my employer. I have not broken any law or even any company policy. – user1450877 Sep 30 '13 at 16:16
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    As I said in the answer. If you feel that your basic human liberties are being denied and really want to challenge that then I would recommend that you contact an attorney Just as you have the freedom to say what you want they have the same freedom. Their actions have consequences too. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 3 '13 at 14:19
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Free speech does not mean there are no consequences to speaking. It means the government won't prevent you from speaking. Your employer had been embarrassed in public and possibly by a political post they would not want associated with them, but now is. Whether you identified the company in your own post is irrelevant, they have been identified publicly. And companies hate negative publicity. They have to protect their own interests not yours. That is what they are doing by asking you to stop blogging.

Now there are two aspects to this, the legal and the "now where do we go from here" question. The legal question should be taken up with a lawyer. That person can tell you whether you have a legal case against the company for asking you to stop or against the person who did the tweet for ruining your career at this particular place. That is out of scope for this site. You might want to check your personnel manual and your contract to see if there is any applicable guidance even if you choose not to talk to a lawyer though.

Now apart from the legalities, you need to figure out how to work from now on. It sounds as if the company is basically giving you a choice between political blogging and your job. You have been given a direct order to stop blogging. You need to decide which is more important to you as clearly having both is not currently an option. Since HR was in the meeting where they told you to desist, I would suspect that filing a complaint about it with HR would just get you marked as a troublemaker and make adverse action more, not less, likely. Certainly they will not change their position just because you don't like it. I personally would not even attempt to bring this up to HR again without legal representation.

You can pursue a legal recourse, but know too, before you do, that those are risky as well. If you choose to make a big deal about this, you are in essense choosing to end your career at this workplace. (You may succeed and not get fired, but you have to accept that there is a good chance you are ruining your career at this company by pursuing this.) Now the issue may be important enough to you that this is acceptable, just know in advance what you are risking.

And should you choose to pursue it legally (and I don't honestly know if you have legal leg to stand on), I would suspect that it would still be in your own best interests to refrain from political blogging until this is settled since you were directly asked to do so. It might also be in your interests to look for other job opportunities in companies that will not mind your political blogging.

Is any of this fair? No it isn't. You sometimes have to choose because all actions have consequences. If you can't accept the potential consequences, then don't do the action.

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    "Your employer had been embarrassed in public and possibly by a political post they would not want associated with them" That is the sour point in all of this. Who made that association is irrelevant, as unfair as that may seem. – Jan Doggen Oct 1 '13 at 8:09
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I feel very angry at the lack of support I received, Basicly some idiot is trying to harass me and they are playing along with it.

In my opinion this isn't the key thing to take away from what happened. They could be really supportive and still ensure that your career was over at the company: they could pass you over for promotion, give you the worst tasks, etc.

You received information: What you say away from work can impact how you're perceived at work. It's true even if 100% of the world thinks it's wrong, you're completely right, and the person Twittering about you is the worst individual in the world.

Step back in time before HR met with you. The information was true then. This off-work behavior was affecting your career, you just didn't know about it. Now you know.

Maybe someday a new employer will be thinking about hiring you, and not do it based on something like this and you'll never know about it. Maybe it's already happened.

So the question is what are you going to do? Personally I created a new email address I use just for public posting.

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    It's not even a co-worker, its just some random person from twitter. – user1450877 Sep 30 '13 at 16:27
  • The point is that you were identified. Do like user814064 did and use some other account. – user10483 Sep 30 '13 at 16:30
  • I meant what should I do in terms of raising a grievance with HR – user1450877 Sep 30 '13 at 16:43
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    @user1450877 - It could be a co-worker, might explain, how they were able to link your profile to your actual employer. As for raising a grievance with HR I would contact HR. – Donald Sep 30 '13 at 17:49
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    At this point, changing e-mail addresses or usernames probably won't help -- if you keep posting to the same blog, whoever complained about you last time will probably recognize your style and opinions under any name. Changing jobs might work, but only if you tell your new employer in advance that they're going to be complained to, and get them to agree that it's OK. I guess you could ask your next employer not to list your real name (or anything else that could be used to link them to your online profile) on their web site. – Ilmari Karonen Sep 30 '13 at 19:34
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Even though in your postings you don't identify yourself as an employee of the company, somehow it is possible for someone to determine the connection between you and your company. The proof is that somebody has done that.

It is not possible for you to say something and not represent your company to some extent. Fact is, you are an employee of that company, and this cannot be separated from you 100%.

For instance, do you think you could make a statement, privately as yourself and not in an employee role, criticizing one of your company's customers? Regardless of your disclaimer about which "hat" you are wearing when making that statement, such a statement is connected to your role at the company.

Anything controversial that you say could be bad for business, if there is a connection between you and your company. What if some person at some other company that your company does business with reads it and is put off by it, and then it influences their business decision affecting your company? People know your name, right? "Hey, look at this! Isn't that Bob Chatham from Acme, Inc? What a terrible thing to say; there is no way I'm giving Acme that discount any more on their next order of our Super Widgets."

Consider using an alias for inflammatory political postings and that sort of thing, and go through an anonymizing proxy service if necessary.

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    Better yet, just don't say inflammatory things. The bottom line is we too can take responsibility for our own actions, which may very well impact how others treat us. – jmort253 Oct 2 '13 at 4:49

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