After waitress Ashley Johnson spent 3 hours waiting on a couple at the North Carolina pizza restaurant where she worked, she expected more than the $5 tip they left on the table. According to the waitress, because the couple stayed so long, she had to stay on at work for an extra hour after her shift was over. The 22-year old waitress was not happy about it. And, as many 22-year olds are inclined to do, she talked about her unhappiness on Facebook.
(Really, let's not make too much out of this conduct, though. There was a time, after all, when waiters and waitresses agonized over similar experiences in the restaurant's kitchen or at the server's station, even at the local bar following their shift. Now, though, the entire digital universe can be privy to their stories of cheap patrons and similar frustrations.)
Johnson was subsequently fired for violation of the restaurant's policy banning workers from speaking disparagingly about customers on a social-networking site. Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, Johnson's former employer, it appears, did the right thing--it thought ahead and implemented a social-media policy to address just this sort of situation. And, it would seem to me, that a prohibition against disparaging patrons in a public forum is probably a pretty reasonable idea.
So why is Brixx getting such negative feedback about the decision? The Huffington Post posted a sampling of the comments from Brixx's Facebook page, which support Johnson and disagree with her termination. Does the negative press seem to indicate that employers just have no recourse--with or without a social-media policy, they can't fire employees who speak badly about the organization or its customers? Well, maybe. But maybe not.
The comments ask the same questions that came to my mind as I read this story. First, whose Facebook page did Johnson post her rant to? Was it hers? If so, was it private? Second, did she identify herself as a Brixx employee? Or just as a waitress? Third, did she name the patrons or identify them in any way? Fourth, how did Brixx learn about the rant? If it found out "innocently," i.e., without coercing an employee to give management access to the employee's Facebook page as a way to covertly see Johnson's page, that's more problematic.
Not that any of these will make or break the decision to terminate but they may be influential. And, let's face it, these are questions that employers should be asking under similar circumstances.
I say, good for Brixx to respond to the post by enforcing its policy. That, after all, is why policies exist. I also commend Brixx for using its Facebook page as a way to respond to those who may disagree with its decision. Finally, I'd suggest that employers not be discouraged by the somewhat negative response Brixx has gotten. These stories will continue to show up in the news for a long time to come. So long as you have a clear policy that is communicated to employees and is enforced fairly and consistently, then employers shouldn't be deterred by a few individuals who may disagree.
Related stories about social media in the workplace:
Employee Fired When Her Sex Blog Is Discovered by Her Boss
Why the Philadelphia Eagles (Still) Need a Social-Media Policy
Eagles Employee Gets Benched for Comment on Facebook Page
Judge Shows Why Employers Should Consider Prohibiting Employees From Posting Anonymously Online
Breach of Noncompetition Agreement Via LinkedIn
Sure, You Can Use Facebook at Work . . . We’ll Just Monitor What You Post
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