Waitress Is Fired for Her Complaint on Facebook: Lesson Learned for Employers?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 18, 2010In: Social Media in the Workplace

Email This Post | Print this Post

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.)image

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

 

twitter

 

Follow me on Twitter @MollyDiBi

4 Comments

To my mind, the biggest lesson of this story is that responding to such social network exposure is a two-edged sword. The comment maybe hurt the business -- though that is questionable, given the common nature of waitperson complaints about tipping, as you note, and the likelihood the comment was originally not seen by many restaurant patrons likely to be offended, if any. The firing and its reporting and discussion on Facebook and elsewhere may have caused MUCH more reputational damage among a class of patrons or likely patrons -- the personal network of friends and relatives, etc. of the fired waitress.

IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with an webinar, http://bit.ly/cR80Al, that should be interesting exploring the issues surrounding social media in the workplace. It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company's greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server's safety and security.

Big deal. The waitress was venting and didn't say anything negative about her employer. Don't you think they are overreaching a bit? I understand policies and the need to enforce them but violations usually come with a WARNING before employee termination. This is a proverbial 'making a mountain out of a mole hill' situation.

When I am off the clock why is my Facebook postings to MY friends and MY family anyone's business? What's the difference of a picnic at the park talking to all my friends and family?

None. It's merely the convenience of hearing what I am saying.

Leave a comment