Q: My company had a layoff. One of the managers is connected on Facebook to an exited employee who wrote a negative post about the organization. The CEO wants the manager to screenshot the post so they can take away his severance and benefits. The manager does not want to be part of it. Can they make her do this? Is the company right to pursue action just to avoid paying severance?
A: “Don’t burn bridges” is one of those phrases that every employee, at any level, needs to learn. There is nothing to be gained by writing disparaging comments on social media about an employer, especially with your name attached, or while you are in an active relationship, whatever the status with a company. In most employment contracts, or separation agreements, employees agree to non-disparagement clauses, meaning that they can’t say anything negative about the organization, leadership, or a reduction in workforce in exchange for severance benefits. Often, the company agrees not to say anything negative about the separated employees as well. There is so much wrong in your question. Bad comments, not smart—Facebook connections from your manager to their employee, not smart—who showed the CEO?—not smart, and the CEO’s goal should be to remove the post, or lose severance.
In these kinds of situations, everybody gets mad. The CEO is mad, the employee is mad, the manager who was connected on Facebook is mad, and none of this helps anyone move forward. The manager should focus on getting the post removed. And unfriending any employees on Facebook.
After a reduction, leadership should focus on rebuilding the current organization and strengthening relationships with current employees, and not on paying attention to a disgruntled exited employee. Human resources should be involved in contacting the separated employee and asking this person if they would like to take down the post, recognizing that their severance and other benefits may be at risk because of the non-disparagement clause.
It’s unlikely that a company would pursue this action just to avoid paying severance—instead, consider that there may have been confidential information in the post that puts the organization at risk. The manager should let Human Resources deal with this conflict if the CEO wants a screenshot of the post, and they should ask the employee to remove it from their page.
This is the kind of situation that should remind you to keep you online social life and your online work life separate. Posting negative commentary about where you’ve worked or the people you worked with will burn any bridges between you and the organization. This is not who hiring managers are looking to recruit. Be smart.