Don’t deny it: you scroll through your social media feeds past the mundane photos, click-bait, and “humble brags” in search of explosive drama. Eventually, you might land on a status update from one of the reliable “oversharers” on your friends list (we all have them). She was just terminated from her job and decided to air her grievances about her former employer in her status update. Would you be surprised if you saw the company shoot back at her from its own social media page? While it is pretty standard to hear about individual employees making poor choices with respect to their social media posts (an employee who is friends with his or her boss on social media is usually involved), it is less common to hear about employers oversharing on company social media pages.
The influence of social media is undeniable, and more companies are actively using it to market themselves. Last week, a well-known internet company that publishes crowd-sourced reviews and information on local businesses found itself in the midst of a social media fueled public relations nightmare. An ex-employee called out the company on a blog by alleging that the company was inflexible toward her situation as a single mother and that the company ultimately terminated her because she asked for leave to care for her boyfriend while he was recovering from a brain injury.
The company decided to fire back via its Twitter account, and in doing so, it disclosed the number of days the ex-employee worked for the company and the number of days that she was absent. It further went on to state that the ex-employee had multiple warnings and was subject to performance counseling because she was flaky and did not show up to work.
By lashing out online, the company may arguably open itself up to claims for defamation and violation of privacy. An employee in California may bring a defamation claim against her former employer based on false statements that the employer makes after the employment relationship has ended that harm her reputation. In addition, the California Constitution imposes an affirmative duty on employers as the custodians of private information to maintain the privacy of their employees.
Fortunately, hindsight is 20/20, and most employers can use the company’s missteps as a teachable moment. The following are some general tips for employers to consider with respect to their own postings on social media in response to a current or former employee’s complaints.
Of course, there is no fool proof method for dealing with social media, but the above tips may diminish some of the risks that are associated with its use. The decision of what to do in response to a current or former employee’s negative social media post involves a careful assessment of the benefits and risks by the respective employer and its legal counsel.