Worker Was Fired For Bullying Her Co-Workers — ‘When You Talk About Fake Employees  & Leadership, That’s Bullying’

Is complaining about work in a group chat bullying? Her bosses say yes, but the law seems to say something different.

woman fired for bullying her coworkers fizkes / Getty Images / Canva Pro

By now, we all know that when it comes to work, we need to be careful what we say about our jobs and co-workers — especially on social media. But are our private comments about our jobs really any of our employers' business, let alone grounds for dismissal?

That's the debate at the heart of one woman's experience of being let go from her job for the way she talked about it in her private life, and it shows the value of knowing your rights as a worker.


She was fired for bullying her co-workers after she complained about her job and colleagues outside work.

When McKenna, a TikToker known as @mavxtar on the app, was fired from her job seemingly out of nowhere, she was shocked, especially since she said her employer didn't give a reason for her termination.

She then filmed the conversation that ensued when she asked for an explanation, and the since-deleted video she posted to TikTok went viral because of not only the debate it sparked but also the way her employers seemed to slowly incriminate themselves as having potentially broken employment laws


woman packing up her desk after getting fired StockLib / Canva Pro

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"I terminated you because I have a zero tolerance for bullying," the woman's boss said. "It was brought to my attention that there were some pretty harsh things put into a group Snapchat."


The boss went on to explain that her "zero tolerance" policy for workplace bullying includes things said in or outside the workplace, whether on-shift or not.

Her boss claimed that calling employees and leadership 'fake' constitutes 'bullying.'

Also at issue is the very definition of bullying — and the boss has a very different idea about it than the one McKenna and probably most people would share.

When McKenna insisted no bullying occurred, her boss responded, "When you talk about fake [expletive] co-workers and employees, and, you know, leadership here, that is bullying. That is a form of harassment."

But the comments were shared in a private, not public, Snapchat thread. And complaints about colleagues are just a part of having a job. They may be unprofessional and even unkind, but they don't remotely adhere to most people's definition of bullying or harassment.


They also don't meet the legal definition of harassment at the workplace either, which the EEOC defines as "unwelcome conduct" directed at people on the basis of their being part of a protected class. Complaining about co-workers being "fake" doesn't even begin to rise to this standard.

As the conversation went on, it became clear that other factors were at play in the woman's firing, including a pay dispute.

The more the conversation went on, the more it began to seem like much more was at play than just texted complaints about work — namely, a pay dispute in which McKenna said she asked several times for a raise and was repeatedly denied.

"I know I had an attitude change," McKenna said at one point, "because of the pay… You don't value me as an employee. So if you're paying me the minimum, I will be doing the bare minimum."

In the end, her boss basically admitted that this, not the text messages, was what underpinned the decision to fire her. "I think that change in attitude is kind of what really got the ball for where we're at today," her boss said. And the more she and another manager on the call spoke, the more the conversation began to seem to veer into illegal territory.


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The woman contends that the comments that got her fired are protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

When McKenna asked for an explanation as to why her boss kept bringing up pay disputes as contributing to her firing, the boss was clearly thrown off course, at one point saying, "I'm trying to think of how to word this."

She finally admitted that talking about pay rates is allowed but justified it being a problem because McKenna had spoken to someone with a "more labor intensive" job than hers, who she said deserved higher pay.

That is not how the law works, however. The National Labor Relations Act protects speech about pay as well as "other workplace conditions" in general as part of what it terms "concerted activity," or actions taken by workers to address conditions at their jobs, including but not limited to pay and unionizing.


The National Labor Relations Board states that under the NLRA, "your employer cannot discharge, discipline, or threaten you for, or coercively question you about" concerted activity. Some of the things McKenna said may fall in a gray area — that's for lawyers to decide. But it's hard not to feel like her bosses directly incriminated themselves during this discussion.

People urged the woman to contact a lawyer as they saw clear violations of employment law.

Many on TikTok called McKenna "toxic" and felt she got what she deserved from her bosses. That's certainly debatable —complaining about work and co-workers to those you work with is always risky.

But the legality of this situation set off warning bells in a lot of people's minds. Several urged McKenna to talk to a lawyer, especially given that she was on mental health leave when the termination ensued.

And in a pretty shocking turn right at the end of the phone call, another manager admitted to routinely "flipping off" McKenna and commenting on her appearance while she was at work — which sounds an awful lot more like "bullying" than what McKenna was accused of.


The moral of the story is: Know your rights as a worker. As this video shows, all too many employers will ride roughshod the moment you make even a minor misstep.

Knowing the rules just might put you in the position McKenna's now in — with what looks an awful lot like the kind of documented admission of wrongdoing that an employment lawyer can only dream of.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.