Can my boss require me to have Facebook or a social media account?

Employers set terms or conditions on employment--things the employee must do to have or keep the job—such as a car, email and internet access, a cell phone-- or that the employee have a social media account. An employee may be terminated for not having what the employer wants.

People often believe that there is a clear or "bright" line between work and their personal life. And that an employer cannot tell them what to do except when they are at work, and/or using employer-provided equipment. That belief is, unfortunately false, in the United State. The employer can put essentially any terms or conditions it wants on employment, including things that seem to cross the line into the employee's personal life. Employees who refuse to comply may be terminated.

To understand why this is, you have to understand that all employment in the United States is "employment at will" except if--and only if--there is a written employment contract giving the employee some enforceable rights against the employer. In the absence of a contract (including a union or collective bargaining agreement), an employee has essentially no rights to a job or at work, apart from the right to not be discriminated against for certain specifically defined reasons, such as due to race or sex. Otherwise, the employee does not have a right to his or her job, and has the job only so long as the employer wants to employ him or her. That's what the "at will" in "employment at will" means--that the employee works only at the "will," or free choice, of the employer.

The employer may, under employment at will, terminate an employee at any time, for any reason. This gives the employer enormous, in fact, nearly total, discretion to set rules or requirements that the employee must adhere to. This includes putting rules or requirements on things that cross the line into the employee's personal life or limits his or her personal autonomy. Dress and grooming codes are a very good example of this: even though your haircut, your facial hair, your body piercings, and your tattoos are part of you 24/7, not just at work, the employer can require you to dress and groom yourself in a particular way, and terminate you if you don't comply.

Other examples:

  (1) Employers can require employees who do maintenance or make repairs or build things to provide their own tools and safety gear. They've always been able to do this, for decades.

  (2) An employer which believes its staff may have to drive for work can require employees to have driver's licenses and cars, even if the employee is happy taking the bus, riding a bike, or even walking.

  (3) More recently, employers could require employees to have--and answer-- pagers, cell phones, so the employer could reach its staff whenever it wanted. Similarly, an employer can require that an employee have a computer, internet access, and email, for communication purposes or to be able to work offsite.

As you can imagine, if you can require a computer, internet, email, and/or a cell phone, you can also require social media. The employer can require the employee to have a social media account—and also to "friend" the employer on Facebook, or join certain groups on social media. The employer can even require employees to do--or not do--certain things on social media, like posting or reposting certain things (like announcements from, or photographs of, or news accounts about, the employer).

What if the employee has some deep, abiding objection to social media? What can an employee who simply does not want to participate in social media do? Unfortunately, his or her only recourse is to seek other employment (i.e., quit). That is the other side of "employment at will": the employee can leave a job he or she does not like at any time.