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Back in 2006 & 2008, there was a discussion on the Volunteers and Technology branch of the TechSoup forum re: rejecting a volunteer per online activity/online profile. It's always a bit of a hot topic...
Today, I found this article, "13 Controversial Facebook Firings: Palace Guards, Doctors, Teachers And More," and I was curious:
Here's a quote that got a guard at Buckingham Palace sacked (very adult language - sorry if I offend):
"she looked the opposite way from me, stupid stuck up cow am I not good enough for them! posh *** am totally with u on this 1 who reely gives a f about hur."
If you were a volunteer, and you said this, or something similar to what is on these sites, on your own Facebook page or Twitter account about, say, the Executive Director's daughter, would you feel it was unfair that you were fired?
If you were the Executive Director at a nonprofit and found that quote by a volunteer about your daughter on a volunteer's Facebook or Twitter account, do you think you would have grounds for dismissal of that volunteer? Is there something in your policy handbook that would back up your reasoning? Of course, you don't need a reason to fire a volunteer, legally - just to be clear.
Look over the other examples on the article, think about them as a volunteer saying such regarding the organization they are assisting, and think about it from both the perspective of a volunteer and the perspective of the organization.
Would love to hear your thoughts.
-=-=-=-=-=- Jayne Cravens Author, The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
The best way to protect yourself (as a volnteer) is to stay away from social media websites.
As the executive, I would not be wasting my time worrying about what anyone says on those same social media websites.
Just my $0.02 worth.
"The best way to protect yourself (as a volnteer) is to stay away from social media websites."
Sorry to be harsh and blunt, but... what an awful idea! Social media helps volunteers:
-- connect with other volunteers in different places facing the same issues or doing the same work, creating opportunities for information sharing/advice
-- connect with resources that can help them be better volunteers
In addition, volunteers using social media helps the organizations the volunteers are helping:
-- it creates awareness about the nonprofit among even more potential volunteers, more potential clients, more potential donors and the press
-- it helps volunteers get support for their work that the nonprofit may not be able to provide.
-- it helps create an image of transparency, that the organization wants to share what it's doing and various opinions, not hide them
To not use social media in this day and age is like sitting in a room with a bag on your head - or behind a locked door with a "do not disturb" sign on it at the office!
It makes me think of 1995 or so, when Apple Computer invited several nonprofit reps, myself included, to their campus to talk about how nonprofits could be using the Internet. And a representative of a local nonprofit proudly told how he had put all the recently-donated modems in a closet because "our staff shouldn't be wasting their time on the Internet." Any nonprofit that maintained that attitude is long gone...
I'm a strong believer in the power of social media. No doubt it has become a powerful force that you can't escape using these days. But social media is a force that must be used responsibly.
Any person working for any organization (including volunteers working for nonprofits) need to be careful in how they use social media. If you are stupid enough to badmouth a boss or employee using Facebook, Twitter or the like, then there will be consequences -- and being fired is one of them.
It's unbelievable to me that in this day and age people still don't realize the harm they can bring onto themselves through inappropriate use of social media, such as for venting their anger and frustrations. It's one thing to express your anger in a way that doesn't attack someone directly, but when your Tweets or Facebook statuses target specific people in a negative way -- especially a current boss or another employee -- that can get VERY dangerous for you.
Shame on you for not knowing any better. Hopefully by getting fired you've learned a valuable lesson: be careful what you say about people online because you never know who else is reading. And you may never know.
TechSoup Community ModeratorDigital Marketing ConsultantYTConsulting.com@yanntol
NPR's Talk of the Nation had a story today that kind of relates - it isn't about volunteers being fired - but teachers (paid employees) being disciplined / fired for online activities. But some of the "outrageous" things included posting a photo of themselves drinking wine while on vacation in Europe! Scary stuff!
Another update on this thread: this article, How to Handle an Employee’s Controversial Online Behavior - from 2010, but still good. LOVE the graphic:
It's the thread that won't die...
So, the latest incident re: nonprofit employees or volunteers behaving "badly" online is the case of two employees of LIFE Cape Cod, a Massachusetts nonprofit that provides residential programs for adults with learning and intellectual disabilities. While on a trip organized by the nonprofit, where employees were accompanying residents on a visit to famous sites, one of the employees posed next to a sign at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that was asking for silence - she posed looking like she was screaming, and she "flipped the bird", as we say in the USA - another employee took a photo, and then one of them posted it to their Facebook accounts.
The photo went public and caused a firestorm of criticism of both the employees and the nonprofit. The two employees have now been fired.
For me, the firing is justified because the action happened while the two people were working for / representing LIFE - they were accompanying residents on that field trip, and acting as staff for the organization. Even if one hadn't been photographed, someone observing the employees while they were working may have called them on this kind of behavior - I certainly would have.
BUT... what if these two employees had been on vacation, had not been representing the organization at the time of that visit, had taken and posted that photo on Facebook, and then the same firestorm had happened - and it had been widely reported where these two people worked. Still grounds for firing employees or volunteers? Grounds for a talkin' to? How would your nonprofit handle it?
In my opinion, the "firestorm of criticism" should have been seen as a godsend and not a problem. While the employees were clearly out of line and disrespectful, they do have the freedom of speech and expression. No laws were broken and I suspect no specific rules in place by the non-profit were broken. How can you write all the rules that should be covered by common sense? They should have been disciplined, a public apology made, and the photo taken down.
Now, why do I characterize this as a "god-send"? Because it offers the second thing all non-profits need most after money: Publicity!
If the non-profit was to denounce the actions by the staff, then discipline them, and facilitate a public apology, they could turn a PR disaster into a positive thing that would greatly raise awareness of the organization.
It's just like a customer service complaint. You can choose to view it as problem and make it go away as soon as possible with as little lost time/money as possible. Or you can see it as your chance to turn a dissatisfied customer into someone that talks about how well you made things right and treated them well when something bad happened.
Companies and organizations that take positive action to correct problems can only better themselves in the public eye when they do the right thing. Maybe the staff should have been fired, but I suspect they were there because they wanted to be. It would have been better to give them another chance and continue to serve the community or to resign if they didn't really care about being there. Showing some compassion and understanding may have been more beneficial to the organization than "casting them out".
Firing people is the easy fix. It may send a message, but it doesn't teach much of a lesson or show what an organization can really do when it wants to.
Actually, for this nonprofit, there has been nothing good about this - because the two people in question were working with this happened, the nonprofit has suffered greatly financially. While companies can often say "no publicity is bad publicity", nonprofits most certainly can (just look at Susan G. Komen Foundation, which continues to suffer in terms of donations per their very bad publicity several months ago).
I absolutely would have either dismissed or disciplined these two employees, who did this while at work, per not only the harm it's done the organization, but also because of the profoundly poor judgement they used as employees. Had they been on vacation, and done exactly the same thing, but it had not been associated with my organization, I might have cringed if someone showed me the photo, but I would have let it alone.
The example in question is indicative of poor judgement. And since past performance is the ultimate indicator of future performance, it is not exactly a glowing predictor of things to come with this employee. There is no hard and fast rule. It is a judgment call that we will never all agree on.
Tim ClaremontSystems AdministratorRochester, NY
After reading the news story, I am deeply ashamed to live in a neighboring state to such inconsiderate people. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a very sacred area for military and civilians alike. I can tolerate the fake yelling picture, but to flip the bird at a national military cemetary that has interred 400,000 service members who have died protecting our freedom is just plain wrong. I agree with their firing and feel sorry for this non-profit and the residents which will certainly see donations and support decrease.
Gary Network/Systems Admin Berlin, NH
And it's time to revisit this topic again!
This month - June 2020 - West Virginia Fire Chief Martin Hess, chief of the Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Department, has been fired after he was found to have made a number of "inappropriate and inflammatory" social media posts about the George Floyd protesters.
One such post includes an image of a blood-splattered truck with the caption "Just drove through Minneapolis, didn't see any protesters." Another shows Hess wearing a t-shirt with the words "All lives splatter. Nobody cares about your protest. Keep your ass out of the road." The t-shirt also features a cartoon image of a car driving through a crowd of people and knocking them into the air.
A letter from the governor to Hess said in part:
"My office has received information referencing various social media posts you have made which are inappropriate,"
"I will not tolerate behavior like this from anyone representing the State of West Virginia. Therefore, I am removing you, effective immediately, from the State Fire Commission."
More in this article from Newsweek.
Also see, from 2018, Firing for Online Behavior: What happens online may not stay online. When is it appropriate to discipline employees for their past or present posts? A really good article from SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management).
If you manage volunteers, or you are a volunteer, does your organization have any policies regarding social media use by volunteers - like not sharing confidential information, or not saying something that is in contradiction to the mission and values of the organization (something racist, something sexist, something that promotes violence, etc.)? Please comment if so.
Below are some more examples, most from 2020, but also from 2019 and 2018 - all but two are volunteer firefighters. I wasn't trying to concentrate on volunteer firefighters, but in my research, that's all that came up - probably because a volunteer at a homeless shelter, environmental group, or animal shelter getting fired wouldn't make the news:
The Sauk Rapids Fire Department (Minnesota) fired two volunteer members after receiving a report of troubling comments made about protests taking place following the death of George Floyd on the firefighter’s social media accounts. Mayor Kurt Hunstiger, Fire Chief Jason Fleming, Police Chief Perry Besie and City Administrator Ross Olson signed a media release saying the comments do not reflect the position, core values and mission of Sauk Rapids and threats of violence and racism are unacceptable. The names of the two who were fired were not provided. The statement says Sauk Rapids City Council has adopted a Code of Conduct to provide a safe, secure and healthy environment for employees, public officials and citizens. The policy prohibits violent, threatening, harassing, intimidating or other disruptive behavior.
A former volunteer football coach with the William S. Hart Union School District (California) has caused concern on social media. June 2020. In response to a friend’s post about the planned protests in Valencia, Tony Moore made a comment of “If the protesters get stupid and violent, that we should give them a place to congregate as I could use some target practice." The school district has been advised that an individual made a comment online yesterday that has caused great concern as it has been construed to threaten protestors surrounding planned events in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to a district spokesperson. “The individual has been falsely identified as an employee of the Hart District. The individual named previously volunteered as a walk-on coach, but has not been affiliated with the district for some time,” said district officials in a statement.
A volunteer fire chief in Pamlico County (North Carolina) is stepping down after comments made on social media. June 2, 2020. In a letter submitted to the Pamlico County Fire Marshal's Office, former chief Steven Jennings of the Triangle Volunteer Fire Department says his "words have reflected poorly on myself, my department, and the fire service in general." Jennings says in the letter he is stepping down immediately and will take a leave of absence from the department. He has issued a public apology for his comments.
Wapato school responds after coach steps down over controversial comment. January 2020. Nick Navarro, a volunteer basketball coach, was in a video posted by a relative a video where he complains about the smell of the city of Wapato, Washington saying "it smells like natives lighting one up." Several viewers reached out to KIMA Action News expressing concern and outrage over the comment. After Navarro said he no longer coaches at the school, he released a new video apologizing for what he said.
Volunteer EMT Suspended Over Controversial Facebook post: January 2019. Peter Graff, a volunteer EMT and member of the Boone County Fire Protection District (Missouri), was suspended pending an internal investigation. According to screenshots, Graff said in a Facebook post, “One of my family members has a permanent disability. I really love it when I see healthy young blacks park in handicap spots. I’ve not seen any other ethnic group do that. I suppose it is hard to walk with your pants around your knees.”
Ellis Cross Country volunteer firefighter dismissed following racist comments. Blaine Shellhorn, a former volunteer with the Ellis Cross Country Fire Department (North Carolina), replied to a Snapchat message from a former fellow student regarding peaceful protests that took place Sunday near the “Fame” statute. In his response, Shellhorn used a racial slur directed at the black female recipient and expletives. In a since-deleted post via the Ellis Cross Country Fire Department Facebook page, then-Capt. J.D. Bush wrote an apology explaining Shellhorn’s behavior. The message also came under criticism and was later removed by Bush. Assistant Fire Chief Chris Kepley said the views expressed by Shellhorn do not represent the views of the fire department. Late Monday evening, Ellis Cross Country Fire Chief Jeff Whitley dismissed Shellhorn from the department.
Julian Volunteer Fire Department Fires Two After Social Media Posts: July 2019. Two members of the Julian Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department are no longer a part of the station after some controversial comments made on social media. The department's Board of Directors met Tuesday night to address the comments made about immigration by a member and subsequent actions by another member. The department says the remarks don't "represent the community-oriented values of this department." Both were removed from their post with the department, according to a release sent to media outlets on Wednesday. Guilford County Fire Marshal Stephen Thomas was made Julian's interim Fire Chief. Here's another story about it.
Volunteer firefighter fired for social media post. July 2018. Shortly after posting to Facebook that the “first thing” he would have done to protesters blocking the road “was unloaded my clip on them and then drove through them cuz [sic] I would’ve been in fear for my life,” Sean Collins, an Upper Burrell (Pennsylvania) volunteer firefighter, was banned from the department. “Everything he posted [was] not our beliefs at the fire department,” Chief Brian Fitch said. Activists began capturing screenshots on Facebook in the days following the June 19 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II by Officer Michael Rosfeld of East Pittsburgh police. Many of the comments in question ridicule the people who are protesting the shooting. Some insult the teenager who was killed.
In 2020, social media has become more prominent than ever before. While the 1st amendment does protect free speech, and I'm all for the 1st amendment, as an individual, you have to be careful about what you post online. You are free to say whatever you would like to, as long as it fits the guidelines of the platform (which has become a bit hazy lately), however, an organization also has the right to fire a volunteer if they deem the post unsatisfactory. Even if a volunteer doesn't say anything too harsh, the organization can still fire the person. That's their right as the Director of the organization. I do think that lately social media sites have gone out of control with their censorship, and what they consider "hate speech", however, that's a different topic. In this situation, the firing is absolutely correct and even though free speech is a right, there are consequences that come with it.
And to continue the thread, two more cases of online behavior having offline consequences:
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