How many times have you seen someone post a viral video of their own workplace, or liked a video of a storytime by someone complaining about their coworkers? It seems like workplace-related content has become incredibly popular on social media platforms like TikTok, but while the videos may seem comical, they might have some unforeseen consequences that these creators may not have considered.
Take this video duetted by Ella (@corporatebestie) focused on a Starbucks employee that was terminated from their job after posting a humorous video while at Starbucks, seemingly on the job. Ella explained a few "Don'ts" of posting work-related content, including: Don't film on company property, don't film in uniforms or using identifiable logos, and don't curse in company uniform at the workplace.
Ella's video currently has 2.8M views, 122.1K likes, and an incredibly varied comment section, with some siding with the employee, others with the workplace.
And frequently, the comment section featured takes like this one, indicating that it should be obvious to an employee that this content could get them fired.
And while instances like the one in Ella's duet feel like common sense to some, social media platforms like TikTok are young enough that it doesn't feel like there are universal "rules" about what you can and can't do. And with so many people making content focused on their work, seemingly without consequences, it can seem like there's no problem with an employee creating content of their own, even content that may focus on their workplace. In some cases, you might not even know that you've done something wrong until it's too late.
I spoke with Ella (@corporatebestie), a seasoned human resources professional and career coach who makes corporate humor and career advice videos on TikTok and YouTube. Ella was actually inspired to create this video series to educate others after she got in trouble at her own job for filming work-related content. She explained, "I realized that if I, as a serious Human Resources professional with an MBA, didn't realize what could get me in trouble at work, then the average person probably didn't know either!"
Ella explained that while workplace-related content can be humorous, it's important to do whatever you can to separate yourself from your workplace when you're creating content. "The most important things creators can do to protect themselves is to avoid making videos on company property, in company uniform, or on company time." She added, "There are federal free speech protections, but those only apply to limited situations like discussing concerted bargaining efforts, harassment, or unsafe working conditions." However, she explained, most social media posts do not fall into that category.
Another popular video format on platforms like YouTube and TikTok focuses on either explaining or re-enacting certain workplace events. These videos, dubbed "storytimes," are focused on work, though the employees are usually outside of the workplace and not in uniform, and often don't specifically mention their workplace. Even with precautions like these, Ella said a video like this could still be grounds for trouble at work and recommended that you try and avoid creating content relating to your bosses or coworkers, customers, or even situations that happened at work.
If you'd like to be a content creator without focusing on work-related content, Ella recommended that it's important to take the necessary precautions to separate your work life from your social media persona. She explained, "Posting content that defames protected classes, discusses sensitive topics, or is explicit can lead to real-world consequences." Ella added that even if your social media isn't related to your work, you could take the extra precaution of including the disclaimer "Content is not associated with my employer" in bios like your TikTok account.
If you're curious about your workplace's social media policies, Ella said that most workplaces actually include guidelines in the employee handbook, though she added you'd be hard-pressed to find specifics. Ella said, "Even though most companies have a social media policy, they are purposefully vague and will not give you helpful guidelines of what to post." So, even though a lot of this may seem like "common sense," it's actually sort of designed to not make too much sense to give the companies more leeway. Moreover, Ella advised that in an effort to keep your work and personal life separate, you probably shouldn't go to your HR representative with specific questions, as that would draw their attention to your content in the first place.
Ella explained that in a lot of cases, your employer can end your employment agreement for nearly any reason, including if they don't like the content on your social media, workplace-related or otherwise. However, Ella stressed that this is irregular, and explained, "The most common reasons that people get fired when it comes to non-work related content is for posting racist/sexist opinions or offensive opinions on topical events." Still, while a lot of video content like TikToks can be fun and even educational sometimes, Ella stressed to remember that it could have real-world consequences. She said, "It is incredibly difficult to get to the level of popularity needed to replace one's full-time job with content creation, so people need to be very thoughtful before jeopardizing their careers."
Ella also added that these limitations and restrictions often vary by job and position, so there's no clear universal rule for how to approach something like that. She said, "You could be posting the exact same content as another creator, and you could get in trouble at your workplace while the other creator's workplace could be totally fine with it."
Ella mentioned that the issue with creating work-related humorous content can be tricky specifically because of how niche-appropriate corporate humor is. First, she explained that while many TikTok videos are exaggerated for humorous purposes, there's no real way for your audience to understand what's been dramatized and what hasn't. Ella said, "TikTok has blurred the lines between news/reality content and comedy because it's all mixed together, and there's usually no disclaimer to let you know which one it is. If you are making workplace-related content, people who know you or your coworkers in real life are going to assume that your content is based in reality, and that can cause a lot of social issues in your workplace and relationships."
Ella also warned that even if your content doesn't affect your current job, it may still prevent you from achieving future job opportunities. She said, "Companies may see a creator as an unnecessary liability because they have to worry about being sued or negatively associated with your posted opinions or that the company may be put on blast online if anything goes wrong at work."
So, yeah, while it may seem obvious that you shouldn't be disrespecting your company at your place of work in company uniform, creating content on social media is still complicated to navigate, to the point where it almost appears designed that way by many workplaces.
Have you ever gotten in trouble at work for anything you posted on social media? Tell me about it in the comments.