It is hard to imagine that one click of the mouse can lead to significant trouble and harassment in the workplace, but recent news stories popping up in Minnesota and across the country are showing a growing trend.

Just about everyone and their grandmother are on Facebook these days. Some take time out during their lunch hour to scroll through posts and “like” the latest Facebook page or news article. Though seemingly harmless, these simple clicks are leading to employment discrimination in some cases.

A recent news article detailed the case of a former Library of Congress employee. The man apparently “liked” a group that supports gays and lesbians. Thereafter, the man began enduring discrimination and harassment that led to a very hostile work environment, according to his lawyer.

Other cases have included employees who “like” certain political figures that may clash with the views of their supervisors. Courts across the country are now deciding whether employees in each case are protected under various laws based on the individual facts of the incident.

According to a news report, the First Amendment has a role in protecting employees, but typically only for public-sector workers. The National Labor Relations Act plays a role in protecting private-sector employees who discuss work issues and conditions with co-workers.

Even with these protections in place, the outcomes of individual cases are not always clear-cut. It leaves many with this question: Should the actions of employees on a private social media site affect their work environment and lead to potential discharge?

Professionals seem to believe the answer is “it depends.” The outcome depends on what is specifically posted on the Internet, who it is directed toward, as well as what policies are in place at the company in terms of social-media sites. While some companies take a “big brother” approach to the issue, other companies that work to compete for top candidates do not want to come off as overbearing to potential new employees.

Unfortunately, not all companies follow definite rules on the issue and an innocent action by an employee may lead to a case of harassment or even wrongful termination. When an employee is faced with this type of treatment, they deserve the right to defend themselves and the future of their career.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Your social-media posts could get you in hot water,” Ruth Mantell, June 4, 2012