An employee’s recent public Facebook post contains negative statements directed toward a minority group and has caused a stir at the office. It is her private Facebook account, but on it she identifies herself as working for our company. Co-workers and clients have told me the post is offensive and hurtful. I am also worried about it being associated with our company. How should I respond?
This is a very difficult issue. While an employee has the right to hold views that are unpopular or offensive to co-workers or clients, the employee does not have the right to disrupt the organization’s operations or harass other employees or create a hostile work environment. As the employer, you are caught between your policies and laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment and laws that protect an employee’s speech (NLRA and Title VII religious protections).
If the employee made no threats or statements about co-workers and is not a supervisor, then it may be safest to let this go and take no action. Anyone who does not care for such speech could always elect to unfriend or stop following the employee on social media.
Alternatively, you could hold a meeting with the employee (and a third party witness) to explain the reaction the post has caused and ask the employee to voluntarily make the Facebook page (or post) private. Make it clear that you’re not disciplining the employee and that your suggested course of action is voluntary. Communicate that you’re not trying to curtail free expression, but are concerned that her views may be misinterpreted as the organization’s views based on her identification of herself on the page as your employee.
If the employee’s post is harassing, identifying, or disparaging co-workers, clients, or vendors, or if the language itself incites violence or is hate-speech, then you would have more cause to intervene, with disciplinary action if necessary. Additionally, if the