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When Facebook Gets You Fired

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Saying your boss is an idiot -- even on your own time -- could cost you your job.

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It's a given: Your boss is a clunk-head.

But can you gripe about the troglodyte on the Internet without losing your job?

Some workers have discovered that the boss monitors their chat-room comments, including those posted on password-protected sites.

In New Jersey, 2 workers sued after their boss logged on to MySpace -- a social-networking site owned by News Corp. (NWS) -- read their critical comments and fired them, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The basic questions: Are employers stomping on workers' privacy, especially if the employees used their own computers and posted the comments on their own time? Are such comments protected speech?

The gut says yes, but the case is now in federal court. The short answer: Who knows?

"At will" employees can be fired at any time for any reason, or no reason. But some states, including California, Connecticut and New York, now protect workers who engage in legal acts from being fired. The flip side is that unions often protect incompetents who should be booted.

You'd think commenting on the boss's ineptitude or low, sloping forehead would be protected free speech no matter where it's made. But this is the arcane world created by lawyers, and current law apparently doesn't cover social-networking sites or blogging.

Some of the examples cited by the Journal suggest those making questionable comments have an IQ about equal to their shoe size. This raises another question: Do some comments suggest the employee is unfit for the job?

In the suburban New York town of Harrison, 3 cops were suspended after they allegedly posted lewd remarks about the mayor on a Facebook page.

That's just stupid, and cops that dumb probably couldn't write a parking ticket.

But is the issue competence or free speech? Does one trump the other? What if the city argues fitness for the job while the cops argue free speech? The city has a good argument: If the cops disparage their ultimate boss, what might they say about the citizens they were hired to serve and protect? Of course, that gets into the realm of trying to divine another's thoughts. Is the city in the business of punishing improper thoughts, especially if the cops don't act on them?

What's clear is that the flap will burn buckets of the city's tax dollars as the case is litigated in federal court.
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