Article first published as Should You Fire Employees Who Talk About You on Facebook? on Technorati.
A recent rash of firings and other disciplinary actions against employees critical of their employers in social networks shows just how desperate firms are to control these conversations. And, studies show the incidence of firing an employee over something they’ve said online doubled in just 1 year.
These firings appear legal, even when the firm doesn’t have a written policy on social media or when information shared doesn’t violate confidentiality agreements or disclose company secrets. The reason; the First Amendment only guarantees freedom of speech from government intervention.
Even this freedom is seriously endangered based on email seizures by the Republican Party after a University of Wisconsin professor posted negative comments on his blog regarding union decertification debates in the Wisconsin Legislature. All you need do is complain about your boss on Facebook or Twitter and you can get sacked or dooced.
Certainly, you’re right to fire employees who share on Facebook sometimes. If the employee shares information that helps competitors, no one will blame you for firing the employee. If they share information that invades the privacy of other employees or customers, no one will blame you.
But, it’s not very smart to fire employees over comments made in social networks. Here’s why:
- Negative press – most people don’t think it’s fair to fire employees for this reason so you’re likely to get some negative press. In fact, your actions might make the comments go viral – while the negative comments might not be seen, your firing might go viral and this happened to several employers.
- You might get sued – increasingly employees take their employer to court. Even if you win the case, the costs of both defending against the suit and to your reputation outweigh the satisfaction of sacking a complainer.
- Disciplinary action has a chilling effect – other employees might not view this firing as legitimate. The firing or disciplinary action might damage morale, reduce productivity, or encourage good employees to leave.
- Negative comments might benefit the company – sure some employees just gripe about everything, but other comments might uncover situations such as poor management practices or poor HR management in training or hiring, You might also uncover unsafe working conditions, poor quality products, or product contamination before customers or regulators cost you money.
- Disciplinary actions don’t make the negative sentiments go away – employees still FEEL the same whether they share those sentiments in social media, offline, or not at all. Often, it’s better to expose negative feelings than to keep them bottled up.
Of course, no one likes negative comments about the firm coming out in social media. But shutting employees up using disciplinary action can backfire. So, what’s the solution?
- Talk to your employees openly and encourage them to talk back. If employees share frustrations with you, they’re less likely to share them on Facebook.
- Recognize the value employees offer. In many cases reported, employees had great ideas and felt excluded. You waste a valuable resource when you don’t listen.
- Not everyone likes your management style. Learn to deal with employees better from their comments.
Face it. The dam is open and there’s no way to stop the flow. A carrot works better than a stick in controlling negative sharing on social networks.