Haven’t we heard this before?

A Bourne, Massachusetts firefighter was recently fired for — imagine this — his Facebook posts in which he  "allegedly railed against [a] police officer over some incident, angrily carried on about being forced to work on the Fourth of July holiday and  made a homosexual slur", according to press reports.

The posts could not be viewed by the public and the union is said to be appealing the decision saying that, among other things, it violated the First Amendment rights of the 17-year firefighter veteran.

By my count, I’ve written over 40 posts that touch on Facebook, and by now, they all seem to have a familiar ring to them. Employee says some inappropriate things on a site that he believes (rightly or wrongly) is private. Another person forwards it on to the employee’s boss. Employee’s boss (typically someone who isn’t on Facebook) reacts with an immediate firing.  Media whips into a frenzy. 

For employers, there’s several things to worry about. First, because the exact parameters of the law are still being fleshed out, a firing over a Facebook post — particularly for a public employer — could lead to legal action. But second, and even more ominously, such a firing risks a media firestorm. 

That’s not to say that such a firing isn’t legal — it may be particularly if your policies and guidelines cover such conduct. But being legal and PROVING that it’s legal are two different — and costly — things.   Before you take action, make sure you understand the consequences that may now develop.