he bombs people drop on social media can
detonate right away or lurk like hidden land mines.
In some cases, someone is terminated from
a current job for recent problematic posts.
Take comedian Roseanne Barr, for example,
who tweeted this spring, “Muslim brotherhood
& planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” referring
to Valerie Jarrett, a black woman who served as a top
aide to President Barack Obama. Barr quickly deleted the
racist, Islamophobic post and issued an apology, but ABC
executives still dropped her from her sitcom.
Or take Kenneth Storey, whose employment as
a University of Tampa visiting assistant professor
was terminated two days after his tweet last summer suggested that the Texas victims of Hurricane
Harvey were experiencing “instant karma” for voting
Republican. Storey deleted his tweet, but not before
a screenshot of it had gone viral.
In other instances, individuals lose a job for social
media posts they made long before their employment began. That’s what happened to “Guardians
of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, who was fred
in July after comments he wrote on Twitter several
years ago involving pedophilia and rape resurfaced.
Even though Gunn said he regretted his words, it
wasn’t enough to save his job.
When an employee posts something ofensive, HR
professionals are often on the front line of protecting
the employer’s brand. Hiring managers also may
be expected to act as defenders of the company if a
candidate’s online posts have the potential to refect
poorly on the organization’s image.
Attorney Eric Meyer, who blogs about workplace
issues, tracks news about employees whose ofensive social media comments cause them to lose their
jobs. He and other experts believe that this type
of termination is becoming increasingly common.
“A frefghter, for example, who puts out a racist
meme ... CEOs, public fgures, you name it. The
frequency with which I see incidents of people get-
ting fred doesn’t seem to have declined. I don’t see
any evidence that it’s getting corrected anytime
soon,” says Meyer, a partner at FisherBroyles in
Adding pressure to HR’s role is the ubiquity of
CROSSING THE LINE
social media and the speed at which comments can
erupt into full-blown crises. “Sometimes, it’s not even
a 24-hour news cycle anymore—it’s a 15-minute one,”
says Betty Lochner, an HR consultant and owner
of Cornerstone Coaching and Training in Olympia,
Wash. “If you jump in there and get involved in a
conversation that would’ve petered out on its own,
that isn’t the best response either.”
But doing nothing may not be a viable option
when business leaders are subject to intense pres-
sure to terminate an employee who’s behaving badly.
Determining how to respond is no easy task. HR
professionals and executives must weigh the poten-
tial damage to a company’s image and reputation
against their desire to foster a supportive workforce
that doesn’t micromanage workers’ actions.
The Internet has obscured the boundaries between
people’s personal and professional lives, as more
workers friend and follow their colleagues. The result is that employees may become privy to details
about their co-workers’ of-duty activities, including
their political afliation, religious beliefs, drug use
or participation in controversial causes, that otherwise would’ve remained private.