Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A textbook example of Facebook firing

I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school bussing tables in a nursing home dining room. Not the world’s most glamour job, but it paid $8 an hour, which in 1989 was a lot of money. Needles to say, we had our fair share of difficult people to deal with. One of my co-workers would retaliate by spitting in the resident’s food. Had he been caught by management, there is no doubt he would have been fired.

Flash forward 21 years – social media is the new spitting. Unlike spitting, however, social media is public, and much easier to discover. When a waitress at a Charlotte restaurant was stiffed on a tip from a difficult table, she took her grievance to Facebook, “Thanks for eating at Brixx, you cheap piece of ---- camper.” Two days later, her managers fired her for violating company policies against speaking disparagingly about customers and casting the restaurant in a negative light on social networks.

There are three important lessons to take away from this tale that is becoming all too common.

  1. Your employees are on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and myriad other websites, saying things both good and bad about your business. Your business needs to harness the good and discourage the bad.

  2. If an employee makes disparaging comments about your business on the Internet, you are within your rights as an employer to fire that employee.

  3. But, you are selling your business short if you don’t have a policy that warns employees of the potential punishments for illegitimate and irresponsible uses of social media, as well as instructs them about legitimate and responsible uses.

For more on putting together an appropriate social media policy, check out my earlier thoughts on 7 must-haves for your policy.

For more on this story, I recommend Philip Miles’s Lawffice Space, The Word on Employment Law with John Phillips, Megan Erickson’s Social Networking Law Blog, and Molly DiBianca at the Delaware Employment Law Blog. And thanks to Joe Lustig for bringing this to my attention.

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