Lately, AdvisorLaw has been hearing from more and more financial advisors who have imperiled their careers with social media posts and comments. We like to say that “it’s a free country,” and it is — the First Amendment guarantees that the government won’t put you in jail or punish you in any way for what you say. However, it does not guarantee that you’re free from the consequences of your words within private industry.
In “at will” employment states, employers have a right to terminate employment at will. Other states will support a termination for reasons such as tarnishing a company’s reputation or reflecting poorly on the employer.
Right now, we’re living in a particularly divided country, and all sides have strong emotions. In our highly-charged current climate, AdvisorLaw is witnessing advisors, broker-dealer staff, and other affiliated persons losing their $100,000+ per year employment for sharing their personal opinions and beliefs on social media. It’s easier than ever to forward a post or an article — even without fully reading the piece — that has content that’s considered controversial based on the headline, alone. A person can post to their own, personal Instagram account, which doesn’t even mention where they work, and end up losing their position, because they made a comment that was construed as offensive. Advisors have even been terminated for publicly expressing their frustrations with COVID-19’s effect on new business.
The broker-dealer firms believe that they have to protect themselves, their other employees, and their customers from negative implications and press.
What compounds these terminable mistakes is that the reason for termination must be reported on a Form U5, which raises several questions: How will the termination be reported? How will that impact a job search? How will recruiters perceive it? Will another registered firm take a chance that an employee terminated by another firm won’t embarrass their firm?
Think before you publish. When you put a comment out into the public domain, ask yourself what your boss, employees, or the CEO of the firm will think when they see it. Will they be proud that that you work with them? Or could it potentially reflect poorly on your employer and yourself?”
Take a beat and contemplate the potential consequences of what you’re considering posting. And when in doubt, delete.
If you were terminated by your broker-dealer or RIA, or you know that a U5 termination is imminent, hiring AdvisorLaw now is critical to ensuring that your interests are represented. And if your firm is alleging regulatory or firm policy violations, this may be merely the first of many dominoes to fall in a much larger FINRA or SEC investigation.
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This blog is our ongoing effort to inform and educate FINRA licensed professionals about the evolving regulatory ecosystem in which we operate.