Twitter & Terminations — a Cautionary Tale

Think before you tweet.  That’s a good message for anyone who’s logged on and begun using social media for business as well as personal reasons.  Companies should also follow a similar rule, “Think before you terminate.”

Twitter & Terminations — a Cautionary Tale

But failing to use or apply these two rules together, that’s spells media circus for a small economic development and publicly funded agency in Pennsylvania.

Companies must now consider the potential media attention they will and may receive when moving to terminate an employee.

The Leigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is learning this lesson first hand.  And maybe, just maybe this is a lesson they can learn so you don’t have to.

The company’s social media specialist, Vanessa Williams (@prpeep) was let go after posting to the company’s Twitter account, @LVEDC.  The tweet posted on Friday, June 3th, said the following, “We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?”

Williams was reported to have been terminated for the tweet as well as other circumstances that were not disclosed.  Like many organizations, the company didn’t have a formal social media policy.  She was offered a severance package, and it appears the company did not act swiftly and generously enough with their offer.  She has hired an attorney to clear her name adding more fuel to the media fire.

This story isn’t so much about Williams and if she should have been fired.  This looks to be an over-reaction by a group of decision makers who don’t fully understand social media.  With over 155 million tweets posted each day, it is likely that Williams’s tweet would have been long forgotten.  This story is more about the potential damage and unforeseen factors that can sneak up on a company when they move to termination.

The company should have kept their mouth shut about the termination.  Their statement and interview with a local reporter created a media firestorm.  Articles from publications around the world as well as an AP article, fueled the fire.  If anyone deserves to be reprimanded or terminated, it’s the employee representative that was quoted in the article.

Social media is public forum, which is contrary to most employment situations.  These happen behind closed doors.  If a company is going to terminate someone who has a presence on social media or because of conduct on a social platform, companies need to consider the potential fallout both positive and negative for themselves as well as the terminated employee in question.

While a termination may seem just fine in your mind, it doesn’t hurt to consult an expert outside of both HR and legal.  In this day and age with the use of social media and its prevalence in the workplace, that expert just may be your Marketing and PR team.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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