Complaining about work is as American as apple pie or Walmart, but there are very few legal protections that keep angsty employees from being fired.
If you must rant about your work, but don't want to be fired, keep these legal principles in mind.
Twitter and Facebook Are a No-Go
You may think that you're in the clear to complain about work by keeping a careful eye on your Facebook privacy settings and crafting a nifty Twitter disclaimer, but you're wrong.
Anything you post on Twitter or Facebook which criticizes or insults your bosses and/or co-workers is essentially adding one more item to the "Reasons to Fire Me" file which you store online. Employers are typically in the clear to fire an employee when a tweet involves their professional reputations, and kvetching about how much of an ogre your boss is (in 140 characters) may be grounds to give you the boot.
Even if you're just Facebooking about clients -- or in one teacher's case, her students -- you can be legally canned. So unless you're a master of vaguebooking about your work, keep your complaints off social media.
Complain About Discrimination, Safety, or Labor Issues
There are certain "protected" topics which your employer should not terminate you for discussing. Terminating an employee for reporting or complaining about conditions or treatment at work which are in violation of state or federal law can be grounds for a retaliation suit.
Employees have much more leeway when complaining about:
- Workplace discrimination/harassment. Employees of private companies are protected under Title VII and similar state laws from discrimination or harassment based on gender, race, religion, or other protected status. If the boss keeps making sexist jokes, complain away.
- Safety conditions. Employers are obligated to keep their employees safe, so grousing about a lack of hard hats is probably fine.
- Labor issues. Federal law grants many employees the right to overtime if they work over 40 hours per week. Griping about being illegally undercompensated is generally just fine.
If your boss is smart, complaints like these will be taken as serious problems for the company, not as grounds for your termination.
Tell a Close Loved One in Person
Fielding complaints about work is half of what spouses, family members, and close friends do anyway. Just make sure that you let them absorb your work protests in person -- don't use Twitter.