I’m Confused

One of the newsletters I receive linked to a couple of articles today which deal with the same issue from opposing points of view. I’ll lay out what they say and I’d love to hear what you think.

The issue is how to deal with social media posts made by employees on the employee’s personal pages. On one side we have an article from the AP called “How to handle an employee’s offensive social media post.” On the other we have The Atlantic with a piece called “A Social-Media Mistake Is No Reason to Be Fired.” The former calls for swift action (read that as termination); the latter urges leniency. Here is the reasoning behind each but I think you see why this is a confusing issue for many of us in business.

First the AP piece:

Whether it’s comments about news events, long-held beliefs or a bad joke, an employee’s offensive posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites can damage a company’s image and profits. If the comments are racist, homophobic, sexist or against a religious group, tolerating discriminatory comments puts an employer at risk for lawsuits and losing customers.

Clearly, if posts of this sort are placed on the company’s pages, I’m in total agreement.  There is no middle ground – the person needs to be fired.  But what if, as is the case in some of the examples cited in the article, the employee is posting on their own page during non-work hours?  Are we as business people responsible for the political and religious beliefs of our staff?  What right do we have to regulate those beliefs and, moreover, what about the first amendment protections each of us enjoys?  The article says that many employers have taken to monitoring their employees’ personal pages to make sure that there’s nothing there that would be detrimental to the company.  Fair?

The Atlantic, on the other hand says:

Here’s what corporations should say in the future: “Sorry, we have a general policy against firing people based on social media campaigns. We’re against digital mobs.”

But note the one exception built into what I propose. Sometimes people do stupid things in the public eye that relate directly to their jobs… generally speaking, Americans ought to be averse to the notion of companies policing the speech and thoughts of employees when they’re not on the job. Instead, many are zealously demanding that companies police their workers more, as if failing to fire someone condones their bad behavior outside work.

The piece deals with the public shaming that bad actors often suffer.  The author believes this is punishment enough and is generally a short-term issue while a termination has long-lasting effects, well beyond the scope of the bad behavior.

So where do you come out?  Can you see why this is a confusing issue?

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