A contested election season is in full swing, people have hugely differing opinions on COVID-19 and the restrictions in place around it and in the wake of the recent BLM protests racial tensions are higher than normal.
Add this all to the usual chatter that goes on and what your employees post on social media in their own time is becoming an issue managers and HR dread dealing with.
A number of high profile – as in they gathered a lot of media attention – cases, and a move towards a 'cancel culture' in general across many social media sites means that while you may have not ever had to care what your employees posted on social media in the past on their own time, that may now no longer be the case.
But what should you do if you are told an employee is posting inappropriately? The answer is more complicated than you think. Here are some tips.
The moment you become aware of the post, you should start gathering information. Your goal is to determine if a hateful comment was made, and if so, if it violates your policies.
You should not punish automatically, based purely on accusations. Don't just concentrate on distancing your company from negative press, your goal should be to solidify your credibility with employees that you respond to all complaints reasonably and calmly.
5 Sensible Steps for a Rational and Calm Response
Take the following steps while collecting the details.
# 1: Decide whether to grant leave to or suspend the employee
First determine if the alleged post is sufficiently serious to remove the employee from the job site while you conduct an investigation. If major disturbance, inconvenience or even safety issues are likely to occur, it is best to place the employee on leave or suspension.
# 2: Check with colleagues and witnesses
Second, gather information from available witnesses and co-workers about how a post has been made, whether they are aware of the post, and whether similar remarks have been made at work or have influenced an employee's work. While investigating, do not try require access to the Facebook or other social media account of the employee, as it would be a breach of privacy and might raise a complaint about such.
# 3: Talk one on one to the employee
Second, get their side of the story directly from the employee. When a union is representing the individual under investigation, be mindful of Weingarten rights to have a representative present during disciplinary interviews that may reasonably lead to discipline.
# 4: Learn from Takeaways …
Finally, evaluate what you have learned. Did the hateful post occur? Does it violate your policies and were those policies communicated to the employee? Could it be considered workplace harassment based on its impact on the work environment (for example, could the comment cause coworkers to feel unsafe)?
Even trickier, could some or all of the post be considered protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act? Most non-management employees have the right to band together to complain about work, even if it is angry and inflammatory.
Generally, an isolated hateful comment about immigrants will land an employee in hot water, as discovered by a recent Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles employee. (Unlike private sector employees, however, public sector workers have Constitutional free speech rights.)
#5 Consult Employment Attorneys and Employment Law Resources
You may want to consider also putting together a company-wide Social Media Policy; access our model policy here, available for free download. To avoid future incidences, too, it’s good to consider anti-discrimination training for your workforce.