On November 24, the FSU Seminoles lost to the Florida Gators 42-14, giving the football team a 5-7 record and making them ineligible for a bowl game for the first time in over 30 years. Following that loss, a man named Tom Shand posted an image in a Facebook group of FSU’s head coach – an African American – being lynched.
There was an immediate outcry from others in the Facebook group, leading the creator to post Shand’s LinkedIn page and urge them to contact his employer – Hilton Grand Vacations. It’s unclear if that is what happened or if they were alerted in another way, but it wasn’t long before Shand was suspended from his job and eventually fired.
As the news spread, even the State Attorney started looking into the matter to see if Shand should face a criminal charge.
Now, few would disagree that Shand’s post was highly offensive, in extremely poor taste, and blatantly racist. However, you might be wondering whether or not it deserves protection as free speech.
After all, as I’ve written about before, the government doesn’t forbid Klansmen from protesting or homophobic slurs. They are protected under the First Amendment. So, how is this different?
Hilton Grand Vacations Isn’t the Government
The answer is simple: Hilton Grand Vacations is a private employer. They are not beholden to the First Amendment in the same way the government is.
If an employee says or does something that makes the employer look bad, the employer is perfectly within its rights to terminate that employee – provided they follow the various worker protection laws out there.
This, too, is something I’ve written about before, and I’m sure it will come up again.
“Free speech” doesn’t fly in private workplaces, so you need to think hard before “expressing yourself” in a way that might not reflect well on your employer.
This is doubly true with social media, which not only creates a lasting record of our conduct but provides a fast and easy way for it to be spread around, taking away whatever control we might have had over it. Once the words are out of our mouths and on social media, there’s no taking them back.