A New Consideration For Termination – Social Media and HR

A New Consideration For Termination – Social Media and HR

If you have read my blog over the past year or seen Impact99, you likely realize that I am uber-passionate about the need for HR to grab hold of social media, learn about it, understand how it can affect their organization, and how they can use it internally to create more connected, innovative workplaces. There is so much magic that can be created with social technology, and I love helping workplace leaders explore the possibilities.

This week, someone I know was terminated from employment with cause, and the situation has highlighted a new set of social media considerations for HR.

Now, I’ve had to perform my fair share of terminations, and know that this happens every day to people all across Canada. But this case has become very interesting because, as many situations do today, it is playing out quite publicly on twitter.

Here’s a coles notes version of the story.

It started in December, when Dave Reynolds, a radio DJ in Campbell River BC, led a massive and exceptionally successful social media campaign on twitter last year, to raise money and food for his local food bank.  I wrote a blog about it HERE, because it was my favourite social good story of 2011.

On Friday, at Social Media Camp in Vancouver, Dave received a “Coastie” award for the Social Media campaign of the year.

On Tuesday, Dave was terminated with just cause.

On Wednesday, the hashtag #HastaLaVista (for Vista Radio) became a place where Dave’s “tribe” and fans came to express their disappointment at his firing from Vista Radio.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the news outlets began picking up the story. Here’s one video from CTV.

So what are the HR lessons we can learn from this situation?

Termination Consideration #1: Always check “special” dates before scheduling a termination.

This is really a no-brainer, and one that really has nothing to do with social media. Was there a special occasion (birthday / anniversary / award) that was very close to the date of termination? If so, it’s best to either move the date or ensure you have a plan for dealing with any extra fallout based on the special date.

In this case, while there is speculation of much more petty/sinister motivations (which I’ll speak to in a moment), at minimum, the leaders should have realized that terminating someone two days after they received an award was probably not the best thing to do.

Termination Consideration #2: Celebrate your employees’ achievements – it makes you look good. (OK this isn’t really about termination but it’s something to think about!)

My understanding of the award is that it is generally for individuals who have used social media creatively to engage fans and followers. People are nominated by others and a public vote is held. The process takes several months and is very public. Apparently, on Friday, at the Social Media Camp where Dave won his award, the event producers received a “Cease and Desist” letter saying that the award belonged to the radio station, not to Dave, and that he must be removed from the nomination. Sean Smith (@rantinginCR on twitter) wrote this post that explains the situation.

Leadership lesson here: when your employees are recognized for things they do on behalf of your company, it looks good on YOU! And it looks incredibly petty to undermine their success or the recognition others are trying to bestow on them.

In this situation, even if 99.7 The River felt that they deserved the award, this is something that they could have spoken to Dave about sometime in the several months leading up to the award ceremony, rather than involving the Social Media Camp organizers at the last minute. Knowing Dave, I know he didn’t run his amazing social media campaign for the River Relief fund to get an award. He did it because he genuinely cares. And he would have happily shared or given the award to the station. Discussion over. Great DJ still has job. Community still engaged. Radio Station gets addtional publicity. Everyone hugs and carries on.

In fact, at the last minute, the organizers of Social Media Camp did change the presentation of the award and publicly recognized the 99.7 The River, with Dave representing them graciously. Vista Radio is also recognized publicly for Campaign of the Year on the Social Media Camp Awards website HERE.

Termination Consideration #3: How will this termination will affect the company?

People are loyal to people. When terminating someone, in the past, we (hopefully) would have looked at how this would affect co-workers and the team. Today, that consideration is much broader, even for those who are not radio or media personalities. Does the employee have a social media presence? Do they engage with influencers? What might their reaction be to the termination?

I’m not suggesting you don’t terminate someone who just isn’t right for your organization. I am suggesting you prepare and get ahead of some of the backlash. In this case, the radio station was fully out-humanized by Dave’s community on twitter. The fans reacted emotionally and quickly to the news, and it took the station more than a day to tweet their response in the form of a scripted and professional press release. By that time, over a million people had been reached through the twitter campaign and the news media had grabbed a hold of the story.

Termination Consideration #4: Make sure you have just cause if you’re terminating with cause.

I don’t know the whole story here and I’m not suggesting that the company doesn’t have just cause. I’m also not a lawyer, but there are some basic considerations I’ve always included when terminating with cause.

First, how critical was the behaviour that led to the termination – was it a serious breech of an essential part of the employment contract? Just cause is generally reserved for extremely serious breeches of contract. How senior is the person and how long have they been there? The more senior / length of time, generally the more serious the behaviour must be. Was the behaviour tolerated in the past? If so, cause is more difficult to prove. Was there a warning and period for correction of the behaviour? For most cases, it’s necessary to show that the person was warned and knew that if this behaviour continues, they will lose their job.

Termination Consideration #5: Be human.

Social media is somewhat new ground for HR but it has often struck me that Human Resources practitioners are often the least “human” of the people in an organization. This is a generalization, yes, so please don’t come after me with pitchforks. It may be a hazard of the job, as HR is often the secret-keepers, policy-makers, and organization-protectors. Regardless, being human, especially publicly, may be somewhat new ground for HR.

It is interesting to note that while Vista Radio released a statement on June 11th stating that Dave had been released, it was a very canned statement. They did later release a somewhat more human statement on June 14th, after much uproar from the social media community and news outlets. Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late.

Termination Consideration #6: Take care of the “Survivors”.

Those people who are still working in the organization need some attention. Some will feel guilty or upset that their teammate is gone. Some will feel immensely loyal to the company and not take well to reactions against the company.

In this case, I think it would have been best to prepare the rest of the team for the potential backlash. One of the station’s employees jumped into the twitter stream in an attempt to defend the radio station and her comment only incited more passion from the crows. She was met with several argumentative tweets back. Providing some guidelines to your existing employees to help them with how to deal with questions or reactions from the public is an important consideration. Note, I’m not a PR expert, so would love to hear what you would recommend in this respect!

An additional consideration about social media and HR: Who owns your social media campaigns?

In this case, one major issue is that the radio station itself isn’t overly engaging on social media. They have a twitter account from which they send a tweet or two every couple of days and have just over 300 followers. They haven’t figured out that social media is SOCIAL. Dave had. He tweeted almost 24/7 from the River Relief truck, had conversations with people on social media, recorded videos, thanked individuals for their contributions, and his fans reacted by making the campaign viral. The radio station obviously supported the campaign, since he was broadcasting from a transport truck for two weeks, but they didn’t build the following, the loyalty, and the passion that Dave did.

So who owns the River Relief campaign? In the eyes of twitter followers, people who nominated and voted on his social media award, and the Social Media Camp Organizers, Dave Reynolds does. Based on the “cease and desist” letter they sent, the radio station feels they do. This will be interesting to watch, and relates to other cases, like the PhoneDog one where a community manager left and took his twitter followers with him.

All in all, many of the considerations for termination are common sense. Social media has certainly added some broader impact that HR and leaders must be aware of and think about when they are making decisions that affect people.

What else can HR learn from this public outcry at someone’s termination? Please comment below – I think there are many more lessons!