HR Hotline: Should We Respond to Online Criticism From an Ex-Employee?

HR & Safety

Q: What can or should we do about a former employee who is bashing our company on social media?
A: Other than employees who have voluntarily left for an attractive opportunity elsewhere, it is likely that former employees will harbor at least some negative feelings toward a previous employer.
In the past, that might have triggered an angry phone call or letter, consumed by only those to whom it was specifically directed.
Nowadays, such angry missives are often posted on social media platforms for all to see, including former coworkers, customers and clients, family and friends.
Is this a battle worth taking on? Probably not head-on, and with only moderate expectations for success.
Some social media platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, offer electronic gathering places for professional or personal engagement and networking.
Others, such as Monster and Indeed, provide job listings or jobseekers’ resumes.
Still others—Glassdoor, for example—provide a forum for critiquing workplaces.
These sites typically have stated community rules of use, with the service provider retaining the right to delete any offending content.
Keep in mind, however, that the service agreement for such sites is a pact between the web service provider and the user, not the employer third party who may be dissatisfied or offended by the posted content.
Other than registering a complaint and hoping the service provider will act accordingly if the content violates its standards, the offended party may have limited recourse.

Keep Online Criticism in Perspective

When your company is praised or the subject of online criticism, it’s important to keep such incidents in perspective.
An isolated comment, however critical, is likely to be viewed by most readers as just that—a one-off rant from a disgruntled individual.
The best way to constructively channel your anger may be to counter such a comment with a post by a company representative extolling your company’s strengths and professionalism.
Consider going a step further, specifically addressing the online criticism.
Such a response could include a thoughtful statement regarding your company’s commitment to listen to and address constituents’ concerns to the best of its ability but also acknowledging that disagreements can arise among individuals—and when they cannot be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, you understand that it may be best to wish each other well and part ways.
On the other hand, if negative posts are numerous, it may be an indication that corrective steps need to be considered.
A posted acknowledgement to that effect and announcing improvements may be a lemon to lemonade opportunity, packaged as a positive invitation to both employees and customers alike.

Non-Disparagement Policies

Some employers attempt to stifle online criticism from the start through policies that forbid new employees, as a condition of employment, from making any statements harmful to or critical of the company, its products, management team, practices, or coworkers.
Companies have also sought to restrict critical comments post-employment through policies or separation agreement contract clauses.
In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board has attacked such broad non-disparagement provisions as violations of the National Labor Relations Act, impermissibly restricting current and former employees’ rights to converse with each other about working conditions, wages, and other employment-related issues.
Other than forbidding employees from deceptively passing themselves off as a company official or representative, or from engaging in conduct that violates the law, broad non-disparagement provisions are unlikely to hold up or offer any power to police offensive conduct.
Ultimately your best approach may be to reach out to all employees and customers/clients and reintroduce yourself and your company, ask how you and they are doing, and engage them in a positive conversation seeking suggestions for enriching the relationship for your mutual advantage.
Hopefully, then, your bitter critic’s online posts will be quickly forgotten or at least put in perspective as a minor, passing distraction.

HR problems? Email or call Mark Soycher at the HR Hotline (860.244.1900) | @HRHotline.


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