When Is It OK to Terminate an Employee on Twitter?
Article

When Is It OK to Terminate an Employee on Twitter?

by Jenn McCabe
December 09, 2020

We get asked this all the time. Although from a legal standpoint you probably can fire someone on Twitter (or other social media), that doesn’t mean you should.

Terminating an employee via Twitter is technically legal in states where employment is defined as “at will.” When at-will labor law applies, you can terminate a worker at any time, for any legal reason, with or without notice and without defining a specific cause. The definition of “legal reason” would exclude firing someone for discriminatory reasons, but that’s about it.

Twitter might also be a practical solution if you have absolutely no other way to contact the employee.

Why It’s Not OK

Nonetheless, we don’t recommend it. Overall, it's not okay to fire someone publicly (on social media or otherwise) or to fire someone remotely, unless you have no choice. Despite having helped employers with thousands of terminations, our HR Outsourcing team haven’t ever advised a client to terminate an employee publicly, for a variety of reasons:

  • Generally, it’s wise not to publicly humiliate a staff member. Doing so is a blow to the remaining team’s morale, which can have long-lasting negative effects on productivity.
  • Even email is often considered too impersonal for a termination and is therefore more likely to result in the ex-employee feeling slighted or mistreated. It’s our recommendation that a departing employee be made to feel respected. Note: In the age of COVID-19, this means a termination conducted on Zoom should be cameras on, face to face!
  • A person who has been publicly shamed can return fire, publicly. This may hurt the organization’s credibility with current and future staff.
  • There is absolutely no way to take it back. We all know that deleted tweets survive! In states that are employee-friendly in labor matters, this would hurt the employer’s case if legal action were to ensue. This is particularly true if there is any hint of malice.
  • The negative impact on the terminated person’s reputation could make it harder for them to find their next job. It’s common, risk-avoiding best practice in many states for employers not to impede a worker’s ability to attain gainful employment.
  • In most organizations, the employee handbook policy will dictate how performance problems are handled. It’s unlikely that any handbook would allow for termination publicly, or without discreet performance improvement counseling first.

No Surprises and Be Kind

We have two simple rules of thumb for how to terminate someone. First, make sure the person being terminated is not surprised by the conversation. A surprised person often becomes an angry and vindictive person.

Second, be kind and empathetic. Losing a job is traumatic for most people, and you don’t want to make a difficult situation even worse. Need some expert help with HR matters? Our HR Outsourcing team offers high-level advisory and consultative support for businesses. 

December 09, 2020

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Jenn McCabe - Partner, Outsource HR - El Segundo CA | Armanino
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