Part One: Facebook and Twitter could get you fired

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With so many people constantly plugged into social media, the line between personal and professional lives online is becoming blurred.

It has many companies adopting policies about what their workers can post online.

But, the answer isn’t always clear.

“It’s the off-duty nature of this that makes it controversial, but also makes it difficult to get a handle on,” said Gerald Lutkus, an employment attorney with Barnes & Thornburg LLP. “I think employers do have very legitimate concerns about off-duty social media use by employees.”

In some cases, that off-duty activity is resulting in discipline – or even termination.

Just this year, there have been more than a dozen well-known cases where employees have been fired for pictures or comments posted on their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts.

“Right now, there seems to be a lot of food service workers that are posting Instagram pictures of licking tacos, or stepping on lettuce, or eating a smoothie out of the smoothie machine without a cup or something,” said Jessica Miller-Merrell, a human relations and social media expert.

But, it’s not just questionable pictures that can get people in trouble. Simple statements made online about a bad day at work or a pesky co-worker can be an issue.

Lutkus says he recently worked on a case where a supervisor at a Michiana company was harassing a co-worker online, but after-hours.

“The supervisor who was involved in the situation said, ‘I didn’t understand rules apply when I was off duty.’” Lutkus said. “Well, he was a supervisor, the employee involved was one he supervised. It was a situation where harassment occurred.”

To prevent that from happening, many companies are implementing social media policies to give employees guidance about what online activity is OK.

But, the problem is, many of those rules are still open to interpretation.

“One of the things we’re seeing is that the technology is changing and moving faster than the law is catching up with it,” Lutkus said. “So, a lot of the concepts we’re talking about in terms of employer restrictions on employee use of social media, I mean, they’re old law. It’s law that’s been developed in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.”

NewsCenter 16 reached out on Facebook to see if anyone in Michiana had been disciplined or fired over their posts on social media.

No one wanted to go on camera because of their current jobs.

But, one woman told us she was fired over a negative comment she posted on a friend’s Facebook page about her employer.

Another person says a co-worker threatened him on Facebook, so he told his employer and the worker was fired.

During part two of Barbara Harrington’s special report Thursday, she’ll explain how to avoid getting in trouble for online posts.

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