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Social Media Spats

If you spotted a post on a social networking site in which a former employee of your organisation complained about the way in which he had been treated, would you reply to set the record straight? It is being reported in the press this week that one CEO in the US has done exactly that.

The individual in question complained on a social networking site about the fact he’d been “laid off”. He also expressed concern that his termination was linked to questions he’d raised about the organisation’s financial practices. The posts may have been intended to elicit a response from his former employer but you can bet your bottom dollar that the individual wouldn’t have expected the reply to come direct from the CEO. However, stating that he wanted to “clear things up”, the CEO posted a short message in which he set out the reasons which led to the individual being dismissed.

We all know that negative social media posts can have a real impact on brand and reputation and we’ll all have seen less favourable reviews on consumer websites being responded to for damage limitation purposes. But should employers stray into this territory too in a bid to protect their reputations as good employers?

In short, no.

  • The employment relationship is a private one and any employment-related issues should, in the first instance, be aired in a private forum. Remember also that there are data protection restrictions in respect of the processing of personal and sensitive personal data.
  • The reality is that any response is unlikely to change the former employee’s view as to the way in which they have been treated.
  • There is a danger that the organisation will end up engaged in a social media spat which becomes increasingly difficult to shut down. Insofar as brand and reputation are concerned, an ongoing dispute in a public forum has the potential to be far more damaging than a one-off post made by a former employee. There wouldn’t have been a story this week had the CEO not responded to the posts.
  • The posts would likely be disclosable in the context of any Employment Tribunal proceedings. They could, therefore, impact the organisation’s prospects of successfully defending the litigation. In addition, they could be used by the individual to support a claim for ongoing losses on the basis that their reputation has been tarnished in the marketplace.
  • In some cases there may be contractual arrangements in place which prohibit the organisation from making any statements which could lower the reputation of the individual.

Against that backdrop, a better way of responding to such a post might have been to simply acknowledge its presence, state that the organisation does not consider it appropriate to comment on a private employment matter in a public forum and invite the individual to contact the HR department should they wish to discuss the matter further.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other steps that could be taken behind the scenes. The employer could write to the former employee asking him to delete the posts and/or go to the social media site direct and request that they be deleted. Legal action could be considered if the comments are defamatory and/or the individual has breached any ongoing obligations he/she is subject to. Finally, if the posts name or otherwise identify current employees, the employer may want to reach out to those individuals to let them know that they are aware of the posts, that they are taking steps to deal with the matter and that the individuals should not be drawn into the matter by responding to the posts.


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