Yes, Your Employees Use Social Media. Now Stop Spying on Them.
Remember the utter shock you felt when, as a kid, you ran into one of your teachers at the grocery store? It was such a strange idea that your teacher needed to eat food, and that she actually left the classroom. You knew, of course, that she did eat food because you had seen her eat cupcakes that the moms sent in for birthdays, but the concept that she would actually go grocery shopping was just mind-boggling.
In some way, employers act like the third graders they once were, and are shocked (shocked!) that their employees have lives outside work. And furthermore, they not only have lives, they have Twitter and Facebook and Vine and Instagram accounts and--here's the really weird thing--sometimes they talk about work on these accounts.
And employers are desperate to control what is said and how it is said. And they do this by making absolutely foolish decisions in regards to social media. They monitor, they hover, they encourage tattling, and then freak the heck out when someone says something somewhere that wasn't approved by the corporate office.
Case in point: Wade Good, a Lacoste sales person in New York, posted a picture of his paycheck on Instagram, along with the following commentary:
Paycheck. Still silly to me. Ever since I was a kid I've thought it was completely insane that we have to work all our lives. I still feel that way. Especially when it's only enough to live in a third world apartment with [sh**ty] everything. Which for some reason in NYC is ok. ... I'm done with it.
Even though the Instagram account was private, one of his "friends" gave a copy of the post to Lacoste, who then fired him for violating "confidentiality." Because, of course, they want to keep things quiet and private and let's be honest, that worked well in 1972 and even 2002, but not so well now. And how do you know it's not working? Because you're reading this article, right now. And someone in Lacoste corporate HQ is reading this article, because they undoubtedly have alerts set up to report when people are talking about them.
And talking we are. First of all, it's highly possible that this termination wasn't just stupid, but illegal. Employment Lawyer Jon Hyman points out that this termination violates law. He explains:
Employees have an absolute right under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss with each other how much they make. It is violation of federal labor law to have a policy that prohibits wage discussions, or to fire an employee for engaging in such discussions. If Mr. Groom has any co-workers who follow him on Instagram (and it's a safe bet that he does, since someone gave the private photo to management), then the company might have a big legal problem. Regardless of whether the termination is legal, a "confidentiality" policy that prohibits wage discussions violates the NLRA. Either way, Lacoste should be calling its labor counsel.
So, not only is Lacoste getting bad press, they may find themselves in legal trouble. Why? Because they wanted desperately to control what someone said on their private Instagram account. Oh yes, and he made a negative comment about his salary not being massive. Let me tell Lacoste Execs and HR managers a little secret: We already knew that your sales people weren't making $250,000 a year because it's a retail job. The secrets you were desperately trying to protect? Everyone already knew.
Furthermore, if you hadn't fired him, we would never have heard about this incident because no one knows who the employee is and his Instagram account was private. The bad press on this was caused entirely by Lacoste, not Wade Groom.
You cannot control your employees' social media usage. You just cannot. You should have a good policy in place, but save your punishments for egregious things, like threats or proof of fraud. Do not fire someone for posting his or her paycheck. That's just dumb and possibly illegal.
If you cannot handle the fact that your employees may say something negative about your business, then stop looking for trouble. Because the employees will say it, and the internet will mock you.
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.