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Can social media postings cost you your job?

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 28 2013 07:00:01 AM CST

What are the rules for social media?

Plenty of us hit Twitter or Facebook to vent. But how far is too far -- when you're complaining about your job?

Log onto social media, and one click can bring up countless complaints. But when can that online rant get you in hot water at work?

"This issue is a very new, very cutting-edge issue," said labor attorney George Hlavac.

Hlavac says there's a fine legal line between what's protected speech and what's not.

"You cannot prevent an employee from engaging in 'protected concerted activity," Hlavac said.

What that means is-- employees can talk to each other -- online -- about wages, benefits, and working conditions. But it generally has to affect the whole group.

"Things that affect not only you but your other co-workers as well. What an employee can't do is go online and essentially rant and rave and whine," said Hlavac.

For bosses, this can be just as much a legal minefield. Recently, the government has sided with several employees who were fired for things they posted online.

"If I can give one tip to employers out there, don't use over-broad language. Don't have blanket prohibitions of everything. Be specific. Give examples," said Hlavac.

For instance.. instead of banning "anything that could have a negative impact on the company," specifically prohibit disclosing "trade secrets," "confidential information" or "harassing online posts."

And before you get too used to these rules...

"It could be a pendulum that swings entirely the other direction," Hlavac said.

Hlavac says appeals courts could re-interpret the law. So could a new administration -- if Republicans win the White House in 2016.

The best advice? Don't say anything online you wouldn't say out loud.