While American political and social debates have always been contentious, social media appears to have turned up the heat on issues that used to be talked about mostly around the kitchen table.

A side effect of online debates has been the “outing” of various employees as political activists. For instance, images of many Charlottesville protestors viral, triggering a social media backlash against these individuals.

This fairly recent phenomenon has given employers a whole new set of concerns. If your company doesn’t have one already, it needs a formal plan on how to handle an employee’s social media controversy.

Why your company needs a plan

The possibility of a social media controversy is increasing by the day thanks to a number of factors, such as the proliferation of public political events like marches and rallies, all-pervasiveness of smart phones and social media websites that can cause content to go viral.

Regrettably, the viral shaming or employee controversy often results in people connecting that person’s actions to the company that employs them. That connection then becomes a major issue when the situation escalates to on-site protests, a drop-off in business or damage to the company’s brand image.

Previously, companies have been functioning under the notion that outside-of-work activities and an employee’s personal beliefs are none of an employer’s business. However, when a worker’s actions or publicly-aired beliefs hurt the business or its staff members, the company must at least think about revisiting its existing policy.

Practice prevention

The best way to avoid an employee controversy is to prevent one from happening in the first place. Start by determining questionable and prohibited actions outside the workplace. These actions might involve violent activity (including online bullying), breaking the law or belonging to a highly-controversial group that operates on the fringes of society.

Then, talk to your current employees about these actions and the consequences they will face. In addition to sharing expectations and guidelines, it’s also important to have a way for employees to share concerns about this policy anonymously.

Finally, be sure that all job applicants are informed of your company’s policy when it comes to activities outside the workplace.

Fire the employee? Things to consider

Typically, a company will terminate an employee who gets caught up in controversy. Before your company finds this situation on its doorstep, it’s important to consider the impact of terminating a controversial employee.

First, it’s important to determine the financial consequences of an employee’s controversy. Consequences might include employee turnover, brand damage and loss of sales.

Next, it’s important to consult with attorneys to determine the legal ramifications. There are many thorny legal issues tied up with firing someone based on personal activities, and laws vary from state to state. Having a policy in place before the incident will help you make stronger decisions when emotions run high.

Partner With a Top Supply Chain Recruiter

At ZDA, we work hand-in-glove with our client companies to support all of their employee policies. If your organization is looking for that kind of support in a talent acquisition firm, please contact us today to learn how a top supply chain recruiter might be of assistance.