With over 2.4 million views on YouTube, over 500 comments and nearly 20,000 likes, “Joey Quits” has become a viral sensation. The video features Joey DeFrancesco, a disgruntled employee of the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, R.I., handing his manager a resignation letter while his brass band buddies strike up a glorious racket in the background.
Since countless other workers feel mistreated in their own jobs, it’s not surprising that Joey is being celebrated as a folk hero — not unlike Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who famously told off a rude passenger, grabbed a couple of beers, and jumped out of the plane and onto the tarmac.
But here’s what is being missed while the band plays on: Everything that you publish online can come back to haunt you later in life.
(MORE: Disgruntled Employee Quits Job, Backed by Brass Band)
Even though DeFrancesco has claimed publically that he already has a better job, one has to wonder if his long-term career prospects will be affected by this episode. Given that very few employees are in perfect harmony with their boss, what kind of employer is going to hire someone with a history of publically mocking his manager? Who’s to say he wouldn’t pull this stunt again? I, too, cheered when the band started playing, but I’d be reluctant to hire him myself.
And this is hardly an isolated phenomenon. Here are two stats that suggest how big a problem this kind of thing can be: In 2009, 8 percent of U.S. companies fired an employee over social media misuse; meanwhile, in 2010, 10 percent of workers complained about their boss online. That’s a recipe for a lot of pink slips.
“What about freedom of speech?” some readers might be thinking. Well, Joey’s situation is actually more a matter of brand reputation and career management than legal rights. It’s actually become fairly difficult to retaliate in court against disgruntled former employees who lash out online. In a TIME article earlier this year, for example, a paramedic in Connecticut complained about management on Facebook and came away the winner in the defamation suit that followed. And the National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from punishing employees that talk about working conditions.
The Renaissance could file a so-called SLAPP lawsuit – that is, one with little chance of success in court but primarily meant to intimidate with the prospect of an expensive legal battle — but most such lawsuits get shut down quickly these days. Several states now have anti-SLAPP laws.
What many people don’t seem to realize, however, is how little control you have over something you post online, be it on a social media site or on YouTube. Once an online video gains popularity, others often duplicate it and create mashups of it. If Joey ever decides to start managing his online reputation, it’d be too late — there are already versions published by other users. The damage has been done.
(MORE: How to Work at Home: 4 Ways to Convince Your Boss)
And that’s real issue: This year, 50 percent of people under 25 reportedly said they’ve regreted posting something online. Your Google results are your permanent record and first impression to the people you work with and to future employers. The Federal Trade Commission has approved social media background checksby employers and has given companies, such as Social Intelligence Corp., the ability to sell that data.
If you’re an employee right now, please learn from DeFrancesco’s mistake. Just because this video went viral and more people know about him, doesn’t mean that you should risk your career on a crazy stunt to prove a point. Before publishing your next video or status update, think about your employer’s point of view — and your future.
Dan Schawbel, recognized is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, a full-service personal branding agency. Dan is the author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, the founder of the Personal Branding Blog, and publisher of Personal Branding Magazine.