Amazon defended itself against Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) in a fascinating tweet exchange--one that any business owner should study as an example of what not to do.

Representative Pocan tweeted

Amazon inexplicably responded:

Let's parse this response:

"You don't really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?" The reality is, Amazon has a bad reputation. And so, yes, many people believe the peeing in bottles thing because of the company's reputation. But there are also actual accounts of employees not having appropriate bathroom breaks and facilities. New York magazine combed the Twitter thread and pulled out some examples of these accounts, including this: 

The thread contained other examples of Amazon employees who were forced to improvise. This coming on top of recent accusations that Amazon is installing cameras in delivery trucks to monitor a driver's every move makes me say, "Yes, I do believe this is possible."

"If that were true, nobody would work for us." Terrible companies and terrible bosses have employees work for them all the time. This is not a defense. It would be like saying, "He must not be an abusive spouse because she's married to him!"

My Inc. colleague Alison Green runs an incredible blog on which she logs thousands of stories about bad managers--all of whom had employees. Here's her "winner" for the worst manager in 2020:  "the company that planned to absorb any government stimulus checks that employees receive for themselves."

While Green plucks her readers' stories, employment attorney Jon Hyman plucks stories from the news and the courts. His worst employer of 2020 was:

The Horrific Human Traffickers--the liquor store owners who forced an immigrant to work 15-hour shifts seven days a week for no pay and locked him inside the store overnight to sleep in a storage room and bathe in a mop bucket.

People work for horrible companies all the time. This is not a defense. 

"The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one." If whoever runs Amazon's Twitter account stuck to this message, it would go over much better. Amazon does have incredible employees. By all accounts, it pays well. Being positive is a much better plan than being condescending.

But the existence of good employees doesn't negate the existence of bad employees and bad situations.

"We hope you can enact policies that get other employers to offer what we already do." Because the reader is now focused on peeing in bottles, this isn't the way to end the tweet, but that's what the Amazon person chose.

How Amazon should have responded.

You always have the option to ignore a negative tweet. Sometimes ignoring a tweet is the right thing to do. In this case, Amazon's response increased the reach of the accusation. It's better to ignore a tweet or to take the time to get a sensitive, well-crafted response than to tweet immediately.

But, if you're going to respond, keep it positive. I would have preferred to see a response that said: "We have over a million incredible employees. This is absolutely against Amazon policy, and we will investigate immediately!" 

Or something similar. 

Of course, the best defense is making sure your employees--all your employees--have proper bathroom breaks.