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Should You Share Your Employees' Sins on Twitter?

Twitter can be an excellent tool for business, but it's not cool to expose your employees' wrongdoings.
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You already know not to say anything on the internet that you wouldn't want to appear on, well, the internet. So, how would you feel if your boss posted on to Twitter the reasons why he fired or disciplined you?

It seems like a pretty horrible thing to do, and when I saw this headline "I'm Firing You! And Telling the World Your Sins--on Twitter!" I thought it was the worst thing ever. Then I read the article and it no longer seems like the worst idea. Still a bad one, but not the worst.

Some background: It seems Dallas Police Chief, David O. Brown, posts on his Twitter account, @DPDChief, whenever he fires or disciplines someone. It's not mean and nasty, it's straightforward, like this: "I have terminated 911 Call Taker Moises Limon today for driving while under the influence and not reporting his arrest to his supervisor." The next tweet mentioned that Limon had the right to appeal.

What about that changed my mind? Because it's the police, and the police have a special obligation to the people. Which means, I want a police chief that doesn't put up with bad behavior, because, quite frankly, I want to be able to trust the police. And this type of thing builds trust. You know he's not going to tolerate corruption within his department.

But you're not the police chief, you're running a small business. And while you want your employees to be honest, trustworthy and law abiding, most of the things you might fire or discipline employees for aren't as straightforward as what Chief Brown faces. Still, there is a right way and a wrong way to communicate with employees--both those who you're letting go and those remaining:

Stick to your guns. In the case mentioned above, the employee violated a clear rule: not reporting an arrest to a supervisor. Hopefully, most of your employees won't have arrests. (And keep in mind that you may be violating the law if you terminate someone for an arrest without a conviction.)

Keep up communications. But, you should take a page from Chief Brown's book and communicate with your remaining staff. So often, managers simply fire and then don't mention the person again. No reasons given. Not even a farewell email stating, "We wish Jane the best of luck as she leaves us." Instead, you need to let your remaining staff know what's going on.

Spell things out. In the case of a layoff, state clearly, "Unfortunately, we had to let Jane and Steve go because we will no longer be training dragons and that was their specialty. We do not anticipate any other layoffs in the near future. Or, "We do anticipate that there will be further layoffs as we continue to evaluate or financial situation and company goals." We wish Jane and Steve well in their future endeavors."

In case of a firing, "This morning we let Jane go. She was terminated for violations of company policy. Steve and Karen will be taking on Jane's responsibilities until we can find a replacement. If you know anyone who would be a good fit, please send me their resumes."

Details aren't necessary. "Jane screwed up the Acme account and she charged $400 in shoes to her company credit card!" But you do have to be honest if you are going to give a reason. And remember, the reason you tell your remaining staff needs to line up with your official reason, which you'll need to defend if you're forced to go to court. It's also perfectly fine to simply write, "This morning we let Jane go. Steve and Karen will be...." Just let your employees know.

Say something. Terminations are painful, not just for the person being terminated. It's an extremely difficult task for the manager as well. And because of that difficulty, people often just try to pretend it didn't happen. Which makes the remaining employees confused and it starts to seem like a bit secret that Jane is gone, which means you then have rumors flying. That is no good for your business.

So, should you tweet your firings? No. (And if you are going to ignore my advice, at least check with your attorney before doing this.) Should you keep your staff up to date? Absolutely.

IMAGE: socialeurope/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 9, 2014

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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