If Your Employees Trash You Online, What Can You Do?


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Sometimes employees use poor judgment, posting things on social media that they – or you – regret. They criticize their bosses, complain about customers, or worse, they might reveal proprietary information that could spell disaster for your company.

You may assume that you have to worry mostly about young employees who practically live on social media. But that’s not always the case. The TV show, “20/20” recently devoted an episode to people who got fired for what they posted online. One of them was a highly paid CEO who disagreed with the religious convictions of a restaurant owner. So he filmed himself taking it out on an innocent low-level employee. Proud of the video, he posted it online. The next day, his employer fired him. And so did a subsequent employer when the video was discovered. Now he’s on food stamps.

The NLRB

These days, employees who get fired for imprudent postings are turning to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for support. Often, they win.

One area where the NLRB has gained much ground is “concerted activity.”What’s that? It’s when two or more of your employees get together on social media to talk about work. That, they say, is protected speech. The NLRB calls it “the new water cooler,” meaning two or more of your employees can complain about their jobs online and, in general, they have more protection than if just one employee posts complaints.

Employees can also prevail if they can show that, when they posted comments, their social media privacy settings were high enough that only a select group of friends should be expected to see the posting. Presumably that means complaining online is no different than complaining to your family and friends at the dinner table.

What Can You Do?

Employees seem to have a growing list of rights as agencies like the NLRB stand ready to represent them. But that doesn’t mean they can say anything they want to with immunity. Some have been terminated and lost their NLRB cases. The key for you is in crafting a social media policy – with the help of an attorney – that complies with state, federal, and local law, and that is not too broad or too restrictive.

Here are some points to consider when establishing your policy.

  • Make sure your employees read, understand, and sign the policy.
  • Include consequences for violating the policy.
  • State that employees are never to reveal proprietary information.
  • Inform employees if they post online at work, they must clearly state that the views they express are strictly their own, not the employer’s, and they must not include anything that would identify your company: a logo, a uniform, an e-mail address that includes the company name, nothing.

Employers should reserve the right to request that specific topics be avoided, like complaining about customers. Here’s a real example of how this can work.

When a Texas Roadhouse waitress ranted on Facebook about a skimpy tip left by a customer, the customer saw the post and complained to the restaurant. Even though the waitress didn’t name the employer or the customer, management successfully fired her because of the policy in place which read:

“Texas Roadhouse does not tolerate offensive language towards guests, whether it occurs online, offline, or even in the parking lot.”

With the prevalence of social media activity today, impulsive mistakes could happen that will require you to discipline or terminate. To minimize your risk, set a strong, clear policy, spell out consequences, and remind your staff that by working for you, they have agreed to your policy.

Teresa Ambord

Posted In: Management, Money, Technology

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