Q & A: Questionable Employee Social Media Posts

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social media posts

I was recently asked my opinion regarding questionable employee social media posts. Such posts can definitely complicate things. Let’s explore this for a moment.

Question Posed:

How do you handle staff who post/share racist things on their personal social media (Anti refugee, immigrant, LGBTQ kinda stuff)? Not trying to start any arguments, just wondering if I should ignore it or not. We are a non-profit free clinic who treats a lot of those minority groups.

My Answer:

This is actually an excellent leadership question. The answers can be a challenge because the leader usually has to choose the higher road. When it comes to Employee Social Media Posts, my initial advice would be to speak with your H.R. or legal department. However, if you don’t have one, take the following advice with a grain of salt and know that states vary in what can or should be done.

From a legal standpoint, understand that people can have their own opinions and viewpoints. They are free to share those opinions on their social media when posting as an individual. In fact, posting an opinion to your profile is usually considered a protected activity, so be very careful moving forward.

Employee Social Media Posts are really their business and not yours. The exception may be if the post directly and specifically embarrasses or otherwise disparages the employer. As in… uses the employer name specifically or somehow insinuates the employer supports the position of the post. But even then, there is an interpretative value that must be able to stand up in court.

What it boils down to are facts. These days, facts and feelings are often confused. So I would advise that you know EXACTLY which you are dealing with before taking any action. Just look through this website. There is a lot that can be and has been confused with some sort of “ism,” even though I’m about as far from many of those “isms” as I can imagine. Often, I just report on historical facts or provide unpopular perspectives. Some people don’t like those facts, and some have called me any number of names for even writing about them. It’s sad.

This type of confusion is why many companies put together a social media policy. Such policies help coach employees through this process. If your organization doesn’t have a social media policy, you should probably put a policy together with your H.R. team and then politely inform the organization as a whole. Whatever you do, don’t single someone out. Of course, that might take more time than what you want here. So, let’s talk about what you can do right now.

My advice would probably be three-fold. First, be careful not to discriminate against your employee because they have a different viewpoint than yourself. Such a mistake could rightfully be costly for you and the organization. By the way, you’ve essentially just called this person’s activities racist. Maybe they are, or perhaps you’ve misinterpreted something. You need to be careful.

The fact is that your actions could be considered libel if, for instance, they were merely sharing articles or had some other reason outside of actual racism… such as law or policy or anything else. Of course, it could be slander if you’re gossiping about this person’s posts at work. Leaders in organizations really run the risk of this when they let emotions get in the way of truth. Sometimes we don’t like the truth, but the truth doesn’t care about our feelings. Neither will the courts.

Second, from a leadership perspective and piggy-backing off of the first idea, be wise and cautious about what you’re reading and your interpretation of what was written. Is it true, or is it that you just don’t like that it’s true? Double and triple-check and try to understand and appreciate another person’s perspective. You don’t have to agree with it… just try to understand the situation from their perspective. This will help you get a better handle on what the intent was while also allowing you an opportunity to understand your people better.

Finally, and probably the road I would take if I were in your shoes (because it has clearly impacted you), simply remove yourself from that online entanglement. Meaning you should unfriend or unfollow this person. The algorithms are often designed to send you content that get you emotionally charged. The truth is that the more posts you see from that person, the more it will bias your position regarding that person. This usually doesn’t end well for either party, but it can ultimately hurt you the most.

What if you were to treat this person differently? Your people will likely figure out why you treat this person the way you do. This is especially true if you’ve already spoken out about your political preferences or dislike for theirs. Ultimately, your people will see the truth for what it is. As a result, you will likely lose the respect and trust of your people as you demonstrate an inability to be impartial and cannot separate work from personal. Furthermore, you may have others in the organization that feel the same way as the poster. Now, they will recluse and be less likely to open up and share things with you.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

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