A Virginia woman out riding her bike on her own time, hair pulled back in a ponytail under her helmet, flashed her middle finger at President Trump’s passing motorcade.

A photographer captured the moment. The photo of Juli Briskman went viral. Briskman posted the photo on her Facebook and Twitter pages. She then told her company about the photo and postings.

The company, Akima, a government contractor, promptly fired her.

“Akima said that because she had used the photo on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, she was in violation of the company’s social media policy,” reported Abigail Hess for CNBC.

“Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene,” Briskman told Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery

Bendery writes, “Briskman, who worked in marketing and communications at Akima for just over six months, said she emphasized to the executives that she wasn’t on the job when the incident happened and that her social media pages don’t mention her employer. They told her that because Akima was a government contractor, the photo could hurt their business.”

There are two things to note here.

First, as the Huffington Post story points out, Virginia is an employment-at-will state. Companies can fire folks for any reason.

On its website Akima has a link for it’s “Code of Conduct,” which in part says the company insists “that all employees avoid activities and situations which may create, or even appear to create, a conflict with the interests of the company or our customers.”

And the second point, Briskman claims another male employed was not fired after posting lewd comments on his Facebook page.

But this isn’t just about one woman and her photo. There’s a larger trend and lesson about social media and your employment status: Complain or criticize, mock or march, but keep in mind you might not be able to keep your job if you do.

Benjamin Sachs, the professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School argues Briskman’s firing wasn’t fair.

He writes: “These aren’t conventional times, and the conventional legal approach doesn’t make sense today. Briskman’s firing is unconscionable, and it should be illegal. Why? We have a president who doesn’t hesitate to insert himself into private workplace disputes, and is thereby turning the workplace into a battleground for politics and public policy. By doing so, he is breaking down the distinction between work and politics and thus reshaping the way the Constitution and the private sector workplace interact. Allowing Trump to tweet his views about workers, but not protecting workers who tweet their views about him, effectively turns our system of constitutional protections for individuals on its head.”

Here are some other high-profiled cases of social-media activity that got employees in trouble.

Flipping off the president is a big deal when compared to using the gesture to communicate your anger at a driver who cut you off on the highway. Personally, I find it vulgar under any circumstance.

But still.

It’s Briskman today, but could it be you tomorrow?

Employers are imposing rules that dictate not just what you do when you’re at work but what you post in your private online accounts – and off the clock.

Here’s some more reading
— From CNBC: How using social media can get you fired

Color of Money question of the week
I’ve actually got two questions. Did Briskman deserve losing her job for using her finger to exercise her freedom of speech? Also, should an employer fire a worker over a social media posting? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Social Media Firings” in the subject line. Please include your name, city and state.

Also, do you know anyone who got fired for his or her social media conduct?

Live chat cancelled today
I won’t have a chat today, but I’m back next week and my guest will be Carolyn McClanahan, a physician turned certified financial planner. McClanahan, who founded the fee-only Life Planning Partners, based in Jacksonville, Fla., concentrates on how health intersects with personal finance, including long-term-care issues. She’ll be available to answer your open enrollment questions.

If you still need a chat fix, read the transcript from last week if you missed the live discussion. My guest was Brian Krebs author “Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime – From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.”

Tax reform and your money
Last week I asked: What would you like to see in the way of tax reform?

Stan Roe of Clayton, Calif., is concerned about how the GOP tax plan will impact Social Security: “I’m retired and pretty much know my 2018 tax burden under the current tax law. I’ve been calculating and comparing my 2018 tax burden under the scenarios posted by the GOP on social media.”

Eddie wrote, “I’m not crazy about adding to the national debt, and I don’t believe in supply side economics. This means, I’d like my tax rate to go down, but only on the 90 percent of our population of taxpayers, not for the wealthy nor the corporations. I feel that a significant tax reduction to the majority of citizens would spur consumption and, thus, improve both corporate bottom lines while people would have more purchasing power. The wealthy have enough. The corporations are doing well, post-recovery. So lower the tax rates for the working Joes and Josies, remove loopholes whereby the top 10 percent and the corporations are avoiding (or significantly deferring) paying the full measure of the taxes they are actually paying. I believe this combination would provide enough economic growth to keep unemployment low while bringing in enough revenue to meet our federal commitments with just enough to pay down the national debt, little by little, over the long haul (around 1 or 2 generations). Of course, nothing like this will happen, but we can always dream.”

Another reader had a wish list for tax reform: “I prefer movement toward a balanced budget. Leave Estate taxes alone. We need to move toward reducing the national debt. Remove the cap on Social Security and stop taxing Social Security. Don’t cut Medicare or Medicaid and don’t cut corporate taxes so drastically. Keep the 39.5 percent top tax bracket for those earning $500,000 or more. Millionaires and billionaires do not need a tax cut.”

Color of Money columns this week
Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

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Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

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