People feel invisible on the internet. They feel comfortable to write whatever pops into their minds as they lounge on their couch in their track pants oblivious to the repercussions of their words. With the click of a button they send hurtful comments hurdling across the internet. You might have a system to follow-up with customers who post negative reviews or comments about your business on social media sites, but what do you do when the comments come from an employee?
When to take disciplinary action against employees’ online comments
There is a line between people’s work lives and their personal life. As an employer, this line becomes blurry when employees’ online comments start to adversely impact your business.
The course of action that you take against employees’ online comments will depend on the severity of the comment. If the comment that the employee posted online said that they had a bad day at work, then there is not much that you can do about it. The employee is allowed to express themselves and they have not said anything damaging about the company. Conversely, if the comments have a harmful impact on the company's reputation, on other employees, customers or clients, then you will be justified to have a conversation with the employee and may consider discipline. The litmus test for action is determined by the nexus of the employee’s comments and the company. If the comments are so damaging to the company’s reputation and the employment relationship, then it is likely appropriate to take some form of disciplinary action.
For instance, if a nurse posts a joke about a patient that was in their care and identifies where they work, then there are serious issues of patient confidentiality and online behaviour that need to be addressed with the employee. Or, if a shipping associate is slandering the quality of a company’s product online, then action is warranted. If the employee indicates they had a bad day because their company doesn’t know what they are doing, their co-workers are not intelligent, or the customers they have are a pain in the neck… you may have a case for taking further action. The bottom line is that employees’ online posts that damage the Company’s reputation can result in disciplinary actions.
The disciplinary conversation that results from the online comments will differ depending on the position that the person holds. Posts from a senior person in the organization who represents the brand will be addressed with a different scale of discipline than a disgruntled employee who does not play a role in the public representation of the company. Similarly, a more damaging comment will warrant a greater level of punishment compared to comment of lesser scale.
Dealing with allegations on social media
Sometimes employees turn to the internet rather than the conventional routes of company procedures to air their grievances. This can especially happen in large complex organizations where employees are unsure how to navigate a whistle blowing system, or when they feel so marginalized by the company that they act out in vengeance. Before taking disciplinary actions in cases such as these, you need to investigate the allegations to determine if they are true and to understand the actions that you need to take to resolve the allegations (if necessary). Once you have a full understanding of the situation you can determine if and what disciplinary actions are appropriate.
Are you in uncharted territory when it comes to employees’ online behaviour? Don’t worry, we can help you manage specific situations or develop applicable policies. Contact us or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.