A good guess may be bad if it is “sensitive information”

On Behalf of | Sep 3, 2013 | Employee Disputes

Social media, like Facebook or LinkedIn and other online sites, makes it easy to connect with old friends, make new friends and engage in a community with similar interests. For workers, especially federal workers, you can discuss your job and workplace and in many cases, the site may serve as the equivalent of the water cooler.

There is a difference, however, and when you complained or vented around the water cooler, you knew who was listening. With social media, you should assume everyone is listening and the “everyone” includes your supervisors. Which means, depending on what you say, you could receive disciplinary treatment or an adverse employment action and a trip to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). 

A federal air marshal in Florida began posting on an online forum, where he discussed many aspects of his job, including “what the TSA hiring practices are, how many marshals had been hired, where marshals were assigned, attrition rates, etc.”

When the TSA found out about his postings, he was fired for misusing his computer, making “inappropriate statements” online and releasing “sensitive security information” (SSI). The TSA compared his statistics on hiring data and other staffing data, and determined he had released (SSI). He claimed he did not know any real facts concerning the staffing data and that he had made it up.

Unfortunately for him, if he had “made it up,” his guesses were close enough to what TSA claimed were the actual number that the D.C. Circuit Court found that TSA’s factual findings adequate to affirm their contention that the information in the posts was SSI.

The man is now expected to appeal to the MSPB on the question whether the release of the SSI was sufficient grounds for his firing.

Source: FedSmith.com, “‘I Made It Up’ Does Not Cut It As a Defense,” Susan McGuire Smith, August 30, 2013