Handling an Employee’s Offensive Social Media Post

When one of Ileaa Swift's employees posted homophobic comments on Facebook, the reaction was quick. "It posted around 1 in the morning. The next morning, when I got up, I had all these calls and emails and hate mail," says Swift, owner of Swift Travel Deals in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Whether it's comments about news events, long-held beliefs or a bad joke, an employee's offensive posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites can damage a company's image and profits. If the comments are racist, homophobic, sexist or against a religious group, tolerating discriminatory comments puts an employer at risk for lawsuits and losing customers.

Small businesses are typically unprepared when they are thrust into the spotlight in such a negative way. While many large companies have social media policies, small companies often don't.

Superstar or Not

When Swift's staffer posted her comments on the travel agency's Facebook page last fall, Swift warned her to stop.

"They didn't agree with what we stand for," Swift says.

The staffer persisted, moving her comments to her own page. The employee's online arguments with people enraged by her posts cost the company business, including bookings from gay and lesbian clients.

Swift fired her.

"It's one of the hardest things I've had to do because she was a superstar agent, but we have to respect (our customers)," Swift says.

Not Alone

Brown's Car Stores, an auto dealership chain in the Washington, D.C., area, posted a notice on its website late last year stating it took action in response to an employee's "racist and other inappropriate posts" and that the person no longer worked for Brown. Emails and phone calls seeking comment were not returned.

Roy E. Abbott Futures in Minneapolis posted a notice on its website last month saying it condemns "any and all racist, ethnic and sexual or gender discrimination of any kind,"...

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