Lay Offs via Facebook? Don't Even Think About It

Lora Bentley

More often than not, posts about Facebook on this blog address what employees should and shouldn't do via the social networking site if they don't want their social media activity to negatively impact their jobs. But today, the employer's "should" and "should not" lists are more the running theme.


First there is the labor law case in which the National Labor Relations Board is arguing that a Connecticut ambulance worker should not have been fired for very colorfully "airing her grievances" about her supervisor in a Facebook post, to which her colleagues apparently responded, resulting in a "discussion" of sorts. That discussion of the terms and conditions of employment should have been protected speech under labor laws, the board said. In its complaint, the agency likened Facebook to the company water cooler.


Though the hearing in the matter has been delayed in favor of continuing settlement negotiations, resolution of the case could set a very interesting precedent indeed.


Worse than that, though, are the instances in which employers have made use of Facebook to communicate to employees regarding the status of their employment. Remember the teenager in the UK who was informed she was no longer needed at her weekend cafe job via a wall post from her supervisor?


I was aggravated at the idea of such "firing" then. It's not professional. I don't care how casual the employment relationship, it's not the way to go. But now I have an example that hits closer to home-and "aggravated" is a gross understatement.


A few weeks ago, a friend's spouse was laid off from a part-time position at a local retail establishment via Facebook message. One day, he got a message from his manager asking why he needed the few hours per week he was working. He responded, and a week later, he and a handful of coworkers received a group Facebook message telling them not to report for their next scheduled shifts.


Seriously? In this kind of economy, you're going to use Facebook to tell a grown man who comes into your brick and mortar place of business to serve your customers that he no longer has the job he counted on to help support his household while he goes to school full time?


This isn't a school girl earning spending money to supplement her allowance. This is an adult who was working to pay bills so he and his wife can eat and have a roof over their heads, for pity's sake. Have the decency to tell him to his face that you're cutting back. Anything less is dehumanizing and disrespectful.


Even if he had been a teleworker-making calls for a collections company based in another town, for instance-I would still say there are better ways to go about letting him go.


Several years ago, I was laid off from a home-based position due to a company-wide reduction in force. At the time, my supervisor, who was based in Michigan (I think), called me at home and conferenced in our department's Colorado-based human resources specialist. They took the time to explain what was happening and to answer all of my questions. It wasn't fun, but I wasn't mistreated, and as a result, I didn't leave with a sour taste in my mouth. In fact, I could even recommend the company later when people asked what my experience there had been like.


Using Facebook to deliver a life-changing message like "You no longer have a job" tells the employee that you couldn't care less about his contribution to your company or about him as a person. The fact that other people were included on the message adds insult to injury, notwithstanding that they, too, lost their jobs. Give them time to deal with the news themselves before having to put on a brave face in front of others.


And think about the kind of message such practices send to prospective employees, or even customers, when word gets around. It won't be pretty.


Yes, you may have an organization that almost prides itself on a casual, cutting-edge approach, but when you're dealing with someone's livelihood, tread carefully. Doing otherwise may impact your business in ways you can't foresee.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 31, 2011 9:22 AM Michael Maders Michael Maders  says:

Big brother is always watching. This is no different. Welcome to level 1 of enslavement.

Jan 31, 2011 9:32 AM John Morrow John Morrow  says:

Wow, what an obnoxious thing to do to someone.

Not that it helps, but I guess the best you can say is that you probably don't really want to work for such a jerk anyway.

Jan 31, 2011 10:47 AM Andrew Poland Andrew Poland  says:

There's at least some responsibility on the part of the employee here.  If you don't want your boss to read your discussions or write you messages on Facebook then don't add them as a friend and don't set your profile to public.  If the information is there and searchable someone is going to use it and it's your own fault for putting it online.

Facebook is replacing the telephone for the upcoming generation.  Would you blame an employer for firing you over the phone?

Jan 31, 2011 11:14 AM Mark Kushino Mark Kushino  says:

Status Update: You're looking for a new job.

Jan 31, 2011 12:42 PM Vivi Vivi  says: in response to Andrew Poland

I suspect you didn't read the article.  They weren't fired because of things put on facebook, they were fired because of cutbacks or because, in the case of the girl, she lost 10 lbs on an errand.  They bosses of these people, instead of giving the decency of an actual telephone call, posted the 'you're fired' message on facebook, in one case in a mass email, without speaking to their employees personally. 

It doesn't take a great deal of energy to look at the person you are going to fire and tell them they're let go, it just takes a spine.

Jan 31, 2011 1:20 PM Innocent Bystander Innocent Bystander  says:

Whats amazing is that people actually CHOOSE to go on facebook and allow this to happen.  Our population is a stupid one.  People should force their employers to confront them via a telephone call or, better yet, face-to-face.  Facebook makes it easy for everyone to be a coward and a liar.  I blame the state of our education system on all of this. 

Congratulations, we just all won a Darwin award.

Jan 31, 2011 6:08 PM Dustin Dustin  says:

I piggy backed off this post Lora, I think in the future my generation (GEN Y) will use facebook to fire people because it will be one way we are already connected.  It won't seem odd.

I am sure at one point firing someone over the phone seemed like a heartless thing to do and then one company fired over 1,700 people via conference call in December 2010.

I think it will happen. 

Check out my article if you're interested: http://www.collegegradlife.com/grad-job-search/are-layoffs-via-facebook-the-future/

Feb 1, 2011 6:27 PM Yves Yves  says: in response to Andrew Poland

You must be from human resources or a labor law attorney. Your reply is so cookie cutter. Another method to get rid of people who by the way have the right to write what they want on their Facebook profile. This is not a corporate website.

Feb 1, 2011 8:48 PM Uh-Oh Uh-Oh  says:

This news puts me in a bind.  I've been thinking of deleting my boss from my friend list for some time.  If I keep him on, he might fire me on facebook.  He might even post in on my wall causing me shame and embarrassment for all to see.  But if I just delete him from my list, he might get offended and fire me anyway.

What should I do???

Feb 2, 2011 12:55 PM Claudia Claudia  says: in response to John Morrow

I'll have to second you here. Obnoxious and most likely an employer you don't want anything to do with.

Feb 2, 2011 8:21 PM Amber-Rose Amber-Rose  says: in response to Uh-Oh

@ Uh-Oh

I have a few "friends" and some family on Facebook that I don't particularly like or want to know what I am saying all the time. You can keep him as a "friend" and change your privacy settings so they can't see what you post. It's an easy fix if you do want him to see it. You can also make it so his posts don't show up in your feed. He will be in your contact list but that's it. It's really simple to do. Another thing you can do is, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU POST! Do you really need to talk about every crazy thing you do? If you don't want someone to know, don't post where everyone can see. They can find out, one way or another. There is no such thing as privacy on the internet, regardless of what you think.

Feb 2, 2011 8:25 PM Jerry Jerry  says: in response to Amber-Rose

Very good idea! I'll have to try that. Yeah, some people are just dumb (not Uh-Oh, people in general).

Feb 3, 2011 12:38 PM Meda Meda  says:

Yes, employees have to be careful, what they are giving to facebook, if boss is supervisoring fb profile, we had small meeting about this in our company...


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