Can an employer fire you over a text message?

UPDATED: Dec 17, 2011

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Can an employer fire you over a text message?

Myself, boyfriend, best friend, and her boyfriend all work for the same company. A racial text message was exchanged between my boyfriend and my best friends boyfriend from my phone to her phone. Her boyfriend posted the message context on facebook specifically addressing our co workers. Now our boss is investigating the issue saying that the both of us could be fired for it. Can an employer bring something that happened outside of work into work and what rights do we have as far as privacy and behaving how we wish outside of work?

Asked on December 17, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

First, unless you have an employment contract (or union agreement) which limits the reasons you can be fired or specifies some process for discipline, you are an employee at will--and therefore may be fired at any time, for any reason, including things that happn outside of work.

Second, if the employer did not have the right to visit/view your face book page, then they might not be able to take action since they could not properly have seen the message. But you say the face book post address your coworkers; if a coworker who could legally view it (e.g. it was sent to him or her; he or she is a "friend" and can see your posts; etc.) and that coworker then brought it to the employer's attention, then the employer did properly see the message (anyone who receives a message--whether a post, a text, an email, or even an old-fashioned letter) can show it to anyone else.

So from what you write, it would appear you could be terminated for this. Note that most company's would fire anyone who posts or is involved in posting a racist message addressed to either coworkes or customers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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