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I Can't Be Fired for What Happens Outside of Work, Right?


Many employees make the wrong assumption that what they do after they punch the time clock is none of their employer's business. The problem is, for employees who work in an "at-will" employment state like Alabama, this assumption can cost them their jobs. More and more, employers are beginning to consider what their employees do outside of work when making employment decisions. The widespread use of social media only makes it easier for employers to keep up with their employees' off-work activities. So, can you actually be fired for what happens outside of work?

The Dangers of Public Media

Sadly, many people post information on public media outlets that others, including their employers, may find distasteful or unprofessional. Some employees take to Facebook or Twitter to complain about their jobs, their co-workers, or their supervisors. In an earlier blog post, we discussed the case of Grasiosi v. City of Greenville, where a police sergeant was terminated for a general complaint she made about her job on Facebook. These types of cases are becoming more commonplace, and social media is not the only potential risk for employees.

What Do You Do with Your Leave Time?

Employers have also become more willing to investigate employees who have taken off work for FMLA, short-term disability or worker's compensation. Some employers go so far as hiring private investigators to follow employees on their off-time, hoping to gather evidence of fraud. If they find it, they can and do use it against their employees in terminating them. Clients often wonder, is this legal?

Will the Termination Be Upheld by the Courts?

The reality is, an employee's conduct outside of the workplace can be legal grounds for termination, depending on several factors, including the nature of the employee's job and the type of conduct he or she was accused of engaging in. While it is unlawful to terminate an employee based on a federally protected characteristic, such as race or gender, there are many other lawful reasons for terminating an employee for non-work-related conduct, including criminal activity.

There Are Always Limitations on Employers' Employment Decisions

There are certain limitations on what an employer can base their employment decisions upon, especially as in relation to non-work-related conduct. Some communications on social media cannot be used against an employee, particularly when those comments are considered protected speech. Additionally, an employee does not have unfettered authority to follow an employee and investigate his outside activities, as doing so may be considered an invasion of privacy.

The point is, there is a very thin line between what is acceptable and what is not. If you have been terminated for off-duty conduct, you should consult with an experienced employment attorney immediately to discuss your rights. You may be able to bring a claim against your former employer for wrongful termination or other types of workplace discrimination.

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated in Birmingham, request a case evaluation with the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King Michel & Kingby calling (205) 265-1880.

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