Using TikTok at work could get you in trouble - or boost your career

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Social media. Once a curious niche of students, now a mainstream bastion of cliche. Social media is everywhere, it’s a great way to express yourself, stay in touch with family and friends, share pictures of your cherished moments. It’s this and that. We’ve heard it all before.

More precisely, people are using TikTok. Through TikTok, you can watch and share videos ranging from 15 seconds up to ten minutes, making it truly popular among people of all ages. Users are creating content in their cars, their homes and even their places of work. But what are the rules here?

Social media usage is pretty impossible to keep tabs on given its scope. Companies and businesses have learnt to live it rather than outright curtail it. Some operations even have their own “social media policies,” which all of their employees need to follow.

Whether or not your workplace has specific social media rules, it’s still a good idea to learn some do’s and don’ts when posting around work as a representative of the company, or posting IN work. In this article, we will talk about the things that you should - and should not -do when it comes to using TikTok at work.

Can TikTok help my career?

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While browsing TikTok for amusement purposes probably won’t help your career in any way, using it as a tool to reach out to employers has proven to work in the past.

Amia Watson made a “hire me” video and pulled off a viral piece of content without so many frills or costly equipment. Don’t feel tempted to take a traditional, formal approach to applying for jobs. This is TikTok, it’s still a fairly untapped market. It feeds of youth and creativity. So be those things. If you’re not so youthful, then just up the ante on the creativity. Or have a “youthful soul!” It’ll still probably work. Make a 1-minute video on what you can bring to the table and link your resume in your bio. You can get creative, or you can keep it short and simple, like a video version of your cover letter. It’ll depend on the role and company you’re applying to.

Make separate videos on what skills you have and how they’re a good fit for your desired workplace. Make videos answering popular interview questions (but again, in a unique, relaxed way), so companies can get a feel for who you are and for your (youthful) personality.

Tag your desired companies. Other creators who’ve done similar videos have taken it a step further and tagged the companies they’d like to work for. With the approach being so direct and personal, it’s hard not to get noticed. And if your content is top dollar, it might be hard NOT to get employed. You may leave them with no choice but to Stan, and to hire.

Can you get fired for using TikTok?

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Generally speaking, employers have the power to fire employees for any lawful reason, and sadly that now includes what they post on social media, which is why you see a lot of protected Twitter accounts. There are some defences that could be available to an employee staring down the gun of discipline. These include laws prohibiting discrimination and retaliation, and laws protecting whistleblowers and employees who complain about workplace conditions.

While you are working, your employer has a right to demand your attention, and therefore has an interest in curbing your personal social media use. As a result, it’s important that employees are aware of the risks associated with posting on their personal social media accounts during working hours.

When you’re not working, your employer has less of an interest in monitoring your speech. But your employer could discipline you for things you post outside of work, especially if what you post is obscene. A notorious example is the PR Executive who, before boarding a flight to South Africa, posted on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She left the flight only to discover she’d been fired.

An important note: making your profile or posts private aren’t a dead cert to save you from discipline. Courts generally believe that you lack an expectation of privacy for what you post on public platforms, so even if you intend to keep posts private, someone may share the post with your employer and you may be then subject to discipline.

What shouldn’t you do when using TikTok at work?

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Don’t wear your uniform in your content. Wearing the uniform means you’re representing the company. So if you create a risque video while wearing said uniform, you could affect the image your company is seeking. There are exceptions if you are an ambassador and/or promoting the company’s products and services. In that case, representing the company TikTok may be part of the job description.

Don’t use your company email address. Reserve this, naturally, for work purposes only. Don’t use it to register on TikTok, Facebook, or any other social media.

Another obvious one: don’t slate the company or particular employees. Work is hard. It’s easy to rant against your boss, for example, who you feel is short-changing you in some way. Why not do so on TikTok so everyone can validate your feelings? Because though it may feel good to publicly vent like this, professionally it’s just not worth it and may affect your future employment at other companies.

Perhaps the most obvious one: don’t do anything criminal. TikTok trends can be dangerous, if not outright stupid. Some have involved challenges were laws are treated with ridicule. Resist the urge to go along with such trends if you’re a fan of working a job and being paid money by a company. If not, knock yourself out. Become an anarchist. Get TikTok famous and screw the rest.

Lexi Larson

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TikToker Lexi Larson was promptly fired for sharing her salary on the app. On the day of her termination, Larson shows followers her work outfit, saying: “Hey guys. My name is Lexi. Welcome to the vlog of the day I got fired. This was my outfit.”

The video cuts to a short montage of buildings while she drives to work. “I left for the office at, like, 8am and this all of the footage I got because right when I went inside, I was fired.” she goes on.

“Their issue with my [TikTok] videos was me sharing my salary,” Larson said in another video. “And just to be super clear, I did not share any company private information. I confirmed with them that I hadn’t broken any policies or shared anything that was a security concern.”

The lesson? Don’t share your dough. An old school rule we know now doesn’t swing in the social media age.

Eli “Starbucks Guy”

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A 19-year-old Starbucks barista in Indiana claimed he was fired for posting a TikTok about work.

The employee, who only went by his first name, Eli, posted a video on TikTok in September 2021 showing ways he and his co-workers wished they could respond to demanding customers. “There were no customers there. We were closed or about to be closed, so we were just having fun,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Nothing was broken or vandalized.”

A Starbucks representative told BuzzFeed News that “there is an expectation that partners create a respectful, safe and welcoming environment.”

The lesson here? The customer is always right and not to be mocked on TikTok.

Fresno Airport Employees

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Four ramp service agents at Fresno Yosemite International Airport decided to make a TikTok after their shift one night, inspired by other airport staffers who’d made similar posts, as well as police officers and nurses. Tommy Chan and three other colleagues filmed themselves dancing using airport equipment as props.

The resulting video was viewed more than 370,000 times and had more than 50,000 likes. It shows the four men acting out lyrics from the song “Magnolia” by Playboi Carti. They use a traffic cone as a megaphone prop, jump out of a luggage cart and do the “milly rock” dance, using a mop as a gun while onboard a Flight Services & Systems vehicle. Later, they dance in front of the “Welcome to Fresno” sign inside the airport wearing their security vests.

Life was great. They’d made a viral TikTok. What could go wrong? Everything. When the video came to the company’s attention, officials told the group they used company equipment inappropriately while still on the clock and were promptly fired. Chan thought this was hypocritical given that the head of airport social media apparently told them “Nice video.” A spokesperson for the airport denied that interaction took place.

In a statement, the airport described the video as “inappropriate behaviour,” writing that the group “displays poor judgment and does not reflect the conduct expected of individuals working at FAT.”

Tamara Khalifa

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Tamara Khalifa was also stung by the workplace TikTok only last month after uploading a video of being caught dancing at work by another employee. The video received about 6.7 million views on the social media platform.

In the short clip, Khalifa checks to make sure no one is watching before busting into a TikTok dance beside a printing machine. Then, right at the crucial moment, another woman comes around the corner to use the printer. Khalifa claims she didn’t see or hear the woman until she said “excuse me.” Khalifa laughs as she moves out of the way to stop the recording.

In a comment under the video Khalifa wrote, “I got fired y’all,” next to several laughing emoji.

Many followers aimed their ire at the innocent woman using the printer, labelling her a “Karen.” Khalifa, however, referred to her as ‘sweet’. “I knew she didn’t seem like one of those people I could joke around with,” she said. “But I was just copying some papers. I had to do a lot of copies, so I was going to be there a while. I was like, ‘You know, let me make a video.'”