Your Boss is Likely Spying on You

Civil rights attorney sees uptick in terminations from social media

By Alex Perez
|  Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011  |  Updated 10:35 PM CDT
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For many, it's become second nature to head straight to <a title=Facebook or Twitter to complain or gloat about daily life or current events. But with more employers using software to keep tabs on employees your harmless rant or online search could cost you your job." />

For many, it's become second nature to head straight to Facebook or Twitter to complain or gloat about daily life or current events. But with more employers using software to keep tabs on employees your harmless rant or online search could cost you your job.

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For many, it's become second nature to head straight to Facebook or Twitter to complain or gloat about daily life or current events. But with more employers using software to keep tabs on employees, your harmless rant or online search could cost you your job.

"I don't post anything stupid. I'm always aware," said Chicagoan Glen Busch.

He never thought any of his random thoughts on the Internet would cause him any trouble. But that's exactly what he got when he took to Facebook and commented on the shooting in Tucson:

"...YOU CAN'T SHOOT PEOPLE YOU DISAGREE WITH! She was a moderately conservative democrat, seemed like a great person..."

About a day after that posting, Busch said he got a letter from his boss at Coats for Kids, where he's volunteered since 2008, terminating their relationship with him. That letter read, in part, "it is essential that we not become involved in public controversy."

"It was like a kidney punch," Busch said about the letter. "All of a sudden all this work is gone."

Civil rights attorney Kristin Case said Busch's story is actually one that has become very common in her practice.

"In the past two years there's been an enormous boom in the number of people getting terminated for this," she explained.

Case pointed out that employers have every right to, and usually do, snoop around employees personal Internet pages. If the employer can access something it finds objectionable on an employee's page -- even if the objectionable activity is legal -- it could be grounds for firing.

Case says that employees in the private world often misinterpret freedom of speech.

"Almost all employees, understandably, think that we have a freedom of speech right that extends to all areas of our life, including employment. That's not the case. Unless somebody is a public employee, unless somebody works for a governmental entity, the federal government, state, local, generally they have no free speech rights," said Case.

She recommends doing an online search for yourself once a month to see what information about you is on the Internet. She also points out that it's important to know what your friends are saying and posting about you, since their privacy settings might be different than yours.

The scrutiny also applies to your work-issued computer. Roughly 66 percent of employers admit to monitoring employees' Internet connections. Concerns over litigation, productivity,and security breaches are the main reasons employers say the monitioring is necessary.

The Playboy-owned website smokingjacket.com is one of a growing number of sites trying to skirt employers peering eyes. It's a "work-friendly" alternative to the company's main site.

"If someone is not being hampered in their productivity, and they are not creating an uncomfortable or hostile work environment for someone else, they should be allowed to look at whatever they want," explained the website's Editorial Director, Jimmy Jellinek.

After much discussion with his superiors, things have ended on a positive note for Busch. His boss at Coat For Kids has allowed him to return. Still, he believes his experience is something from which everyone can learn.

"You better know what you're posting, and be comfortable with showing the world," he advised.

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