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Is it a good idea to track or respond to a fired employee's social media?

Terminating an employee is never easy, even when it is an employer's only reasonable option. Making matters more complicated is the fact that a fired employee has many avenues on social media to make negative comments about his or her former employer. Employers are justifiably concerned about damage to its brand. The question becomes, how far can or should an employer go to protect its reputation online?

Monitoring a former employee's social media presence

Generally speaking, a former employee is free to say what he or she likes about a company, as long as these statements are not defamatory. There are exceptions, however. If an employee entered into a severance agreement with a nondisparagement clause, negative comments could violate the severance agreement. Furthermore, a former employee who discusses trade secrets or other confidential information could be violating the law. In these cases, taking legal action may be necessary.

In situations where a former employee is simply venting about a company online, a more relaxed approach is appropriate. Online users understand that terminated employees are not objective sources of information. Companies that are tempted to access to a former employee's social media accounts must understand this is a bad idea. An employee is unlikely to allow a former employer to "friend" or "follow" them. Using fake accounts in an attempt to gain access to a former employee's social media is, at minimum, a violation of the terms of use and a possible violation of the law.

Responding to public negative comments from a former employee

Generally, employers should not devote substantial time or energy to monitoring a former employee's social media. There are times, however, in which a carefully worded response in a social media forum can go a long way to presenting a complete account of events. For instance, if a former employee posts a negative review on Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com or other online job forum, it may be appropriate to post a response that provides additional context to the complaint. By doing so, an employer can show that it welcomes feedback and is not bothered by a former employee's claims.

While a former employee's comments may be jarring to read, these comments usually reflect more on the former employee than the employer. With this said, there are many times when a business can gain tangible benefits by working closely with experienced legal counsel. Thatcher Law Firm represents employers in the full range of employment actions.

Source: Should You Track the Social Media of Fired Employees? Society for Human Resource Management, by Mark Feffer, January 30, 2017

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