It doesn’t seem that long ago that an employee’s negative online comments about a company left employers with their hands tied, unsure of what — if anything — they could legally do about it.

Now? Courts may have it figured out – and that’s great news for companies. 

Here are three cases that show the social media tides may be turning in your favor.

She took her frustrations out on Facebook

Jennifer Shepard worked for Oregon’s Department of Human Services (DHS) as a child-protective services caseworker.

Shepard was supposed to be a neutral appraiser of the places where children live, but eventually she started posting her frustrations about her work on Facebook, including:

  • “So today I noticed a Self-Sufficiency client getting into a newer BMW. What am I doing wrong here?” and
  • “Almost every client home I go into has a gigantic flat screen tv. I ask how they paid for it, and it’s usually with their tax returns….yet they don’t pay taxes!”

In another post, she stated:

I was listening to the radio and they were making up rules for society. Here are my rules: (1) If you are on public assistance, you may not have additional children and must be on reliable birth control (e.g. an IUD), (2) If you’ve had your parental rights terminated by DHS, you may not have more children….it’s sterilization for you buddy! (3) If you are on public assistance and don’t pay taxes, you shouldn’t get taxes back from that child tax credit[,] (4) If you are on public assistance, you may not own a big flat screen television, (5) If you receive food stamps, you should be limited on what you may purchase (no more ribeye steaks, candy, soda, chips, etc), (6) If you physically abuse your child, someone should physically abuse you, (7) I should be president so I can make up more rules, (8) If you don’t like my rules, too bad. I have a Ph.D. and you don’t so I get to make up my own imaginary rules.

DHS eventually learned of Shepard’s posts and fired her.

Shepard sued, claiming that the state violated her First Amendment rights by terminating her.

Nope, said a federal court.

Shepard, who as mentioned was supposed to be a “neutral appraiser,” had made negative and biased public comments that could be used against her and DHS if Shepard was ever called as a witness in a court case.

Therefore, the court said, the state had a legitimate reason for firing her.

‘Working all night cleaning up feces’

The second case involved Bernadet Guevarra, who worked as a staff nurse at a medical center.

One day before work, she posted a message on Facebook:

Instead of spending my birthday celebrating, I will be working all night cleaning up feces. I hate loathe that effin heffer!!! Burn in hell you effed up spawn of satan. I curse you and wish you a lifetime of pain and suffering. That is not enough, right now I would give anything you smack you down and pound you to unconsciousness. `Tang ina mo!!!!!

Thanks to the effin heifer who royally effed up my schedule, not only am I working Mothers Day, my birthday and my anniversary. And this Friday, I will be getting the smallest paycheck I had in 12 years due to the 17 percent pay cut we had to endure.

A co-worker saw the posts and informed Guevarra’s manager — who was the aforementioned “heffer” in Guevarra’s posts.

Geuvarra was immediately fired.

She then sued, claiming the firing violated her free speech rights.

A court said no way: Guevarra had been fired for violating company policy banning threatening or abusive language.

Sexual harassment and overpayment

The final case involved Sara Debord, a technician at a hospital in Kansas.

Debord wrote a number of public posts on Facebook. The relevant posts included:

(At 9:00 am) Sara DeBord loves it when my boss adds an extra $600.00 on my paycheck for hours I didn’t even work…awesome!!

(At 1:37 pm) Sara DeBord is sooo disappointed…can’t believe what a snake my boss is…I know, I know everyone warned me:(

(At 2:53 pm) Oh, it’s hard to explain….basically, the MRI tech is getting paid for doing MRI even though he’s not registered and myself, nor the CT tech are getting paid for our areas…and he tells me ‘good luck taking it to HR because you’re not supposed to know that’ plus he adds money on peoples checks if he likes them (I’ve been one of them)…and he needs to keep his creapy hands to himself…just an all around d-bag!!

When later confronted about the posts, Debord twice denied writing them before finally fessing up. She was fired.

Then, of course, she sued, claiming she was wrongly fired.

A court disagreed.

Debord wasn’t fired because of what she posted on Facebook, the court said – she was fired for:

  • lying about it, and
  • for disrupting the firm’s investigations into her allegations.

The takeaway

From these rulings, it’s obvious that it’s OK to fire anyone who says anything negative about your company on Facebook, right?


Remember: The National Labor Relations Act gives staffers the right to discuss and complain about work conditions with each other, including on social media.

What doesn’t have to be permitted: violating company policy, divulging trade secrets, and libelous, abusive or pornographic comments.

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