What it’s like to get in trouble at work because of social media

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What it's like to get in trouble at work because of social media
Jade Pinner’s howl of despair (Picture: Jade Pinner/ Jam Press)

Last month a 19-year-old named Jade Pinner uploaded a video to TikTok, and in the process gave to the world a deranged and profoundly chaotic gift.

Her blood-curdling scream is the rage of anyone who’s ever had to work a service job; anyone who’s ever had to fight the impulse to tell a rude customer to ‘shut up’ and, instead, treat them with the obsequiousness that the industry demands.

Whether the video is a joke or not (Jade has claimed to be performing a ‘character’), it nonetheless perfectly encapsulates the existential dread of heading to work without having slept.

Towards the end of the clip, Jade disintegrates, spitting and snarling; she appears on the verge of tears as she punches invisible enemies, ducking from blows that never come. It is a masterpiece – and she is a hero.

But not everyone saw it that way. In fact, a lot of people seemed to identify so strongly with the identity of ‘customer’ that they took it as a personal attack.

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‘Not a great advert for Tesco,’ some sniped, as though that was ever Jade’s intention.

Several people even directly tagged Tesco in the post, asking why they employed her.

Thankfully, Jade didn’t lose her job, because it turns out she had already left the company several months prior. But lots of people wanted her to get fired.

We don’t know how Tesco would have responded if Jade had still been working for them, but the whole thing raises some disturbing questions about the relationship between social media and the workplace.

It’s difficult to predict which posts will go viral and the potential fallout if they do. Most of us have posted stupid things on social media, without ever imagining it will get back to our bosses.

But sometimes it does, and sometimes it’s a problem.

Take Angela Gibbins, for instance, who last year lost her job at the British Council after accusing Prince George of being a symbol of ‘white privilege’.

Commenting on Facebook, Gibbins wrote: ‘White privilege. That cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge that he’s Royal, rich, advantaged, and will never know any difficulties or hardships in life.

‘Let’s find photos of 3yo Syrian refugee children and see if they look alike, eh.’

Not only was she fired for this post, she lost a subsequent attempt to appeal the decision.

Another high-profile example in recent years was Justine Sacco who lost her job as a PR executive after tweeting an AIDS joke on a long-haul flight to South Africa: ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!’

Her tweet went viral while she was still in the air, meaning the whole world knew that she’d lost her job before she found out – an eventuality which was eagerly anticipated with the hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet.

But you don’t have to cause an international scandal to get in hot water as a result of your social media presence. It’s now a common workplace occurrence, to varying degrees of severity.

To find out more about this disturbing phenomenon, we spoke to a bunch of people who have been fired, or narrowly avoided it, for stuff they posted online – some more innocuous than others.

Scott

‘I used to work for a shoe shop in their warehouse on Sundays. Once I asked for the weekend off so I could go to a music festival.

‘They said no because everyone else had asked for that weekend off, too. So I pulled a sicky and went anyway, but not before having a pretty detailed rant about it on Twitter which included the company name – “f*** ___”.

‘After I got back from the festival, I received a letter through the door informing me I was being pulled in for an investigatory meeting, as a result of posts on social media. I called up HR to see what they had, and had to listen to them read all of my tweets aloud.

‘I realised I was bang to rights and handed in my resignation… I was not required to work my notice.’

Luke

‘Once I got in trouble because I’d just started a new PR job and someone asked me on Twitter how it was. I replied “Not too shabby” – you know, about as British an answer as you could get. It’s not even negative.

‘But I was hauled into the managing director’s office the next morning and given a b*llocking. They warned that this could paint the agency in a negative light – which made me realise I didn’t want to work for them.’

Ali

‘I got fired from a low-level social marketing job when I erroneously posted something funny I found in the staff fridge: a Marmite and Mango smoothie (which was a publicity stunt for April Fools’ day).

‘I later realised it was embargoed by the PR company we rented our office from, and subsequently, a big newspaper pulled out of an exclusive.

‘They didn’t sack me straight away, though: I got the news at Heathrow airport after returning from my honeymoon.’

Gemma

‘A colleague at my old job logged into my work computer and found my Twitter, which was completely anonymous at the time. I mean, the avi was a picture of Pingu.

‘Anyway, he decided to collate a little montage of my most damning tweets for our bosses to see.

‘It was stuff about how I’d been drunk at work and also some incredibly vague and harmless comments I’d made about a project we’d worked on.

‘They fired me, and the worst thing was that it happened at a particularly vulnerable time.

‘I’m fine now but at the time I had so many tweets about being depressed and suicidal, which my colleague must have read and still decided he wanted to get me fired.

‘Some people are truly dickheads.’

What you post online can come back to bite you (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Payzee

‘A few years ago, while I was working for a record label, I’d been taking the piss out of my best friend on Twitter, when my manager rang me and asked me to explain my tweets.

‘They were rather crude but also, at the end of the day, personal jokes between me and my friend. My boss was really angry about it and called me into a meeting.

‘I got in serious trouble and had to discuss every single one of my tweets (which contained words like “dick” – among other things).’

The sad thing is, if you do get in trouble at work for a social media post, you probably don’t have a leg to stand on.

These days most job contracts have a clause related to social media conduct and prohibitions against bringing the company into disrepute, which can be applied extremely elastically.

Paddy O’Connell, a data protection and media lawyer with Wiggin LLP, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Whilst many people assume their social media activity is private and separate from their work and essentially none of their employer’s concern, you can definitely get fired as a result of social media posts.’

Paddy says that it’s hard to specify exactly what to avoid, as companies operate to different standards: ‘The important thing is to make sure you carefully read your employer’s policies on social media use and avoid anything that would contravene them.’

What about if you have been fired? Do you have any recourse? Paddy tells us: ‘If this happens, you should check your companies staff privacy notice and any other relevant policies to ensure that you were made aware that this type of monitoring would occur’.

Ultimately, it’s boring advice but it’s best to err on the side of caution. My mum, having stumbled across my Twitter, once sent me the ominous message: ‘you need to remember that anyone can read this. You’re not down the pub having a cosy chat with your friends.’

As annoying as this was – she was probably right.

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