Though you may find it hard to believe, there are some things that southern comfort food and a glass of sweet tea just can’t smooth over. Restaurant chain, Cracker Barrel, is finding this out the hard way this week as it draws the ire of the public after Bradley Reid Byrd, the husband of a former Cracker Barrel employee posted one simple question on Cracker Barrel’s Facebook page last month: “Why did you fire my wife?”

The post went largely unnoticed until last week when comedian Amiri King posted the screen grab (above) to his Facebook page and the ordeal went viral.

That post has spawned a Change.org petition with nearly 25,000 signatures from people demanding “Justice for Brad’s Wife.” The Google Review page for the Cracker Barrel location in Corydon, Indiana where Brad’s wife once worked has seen an uptick in one star reviews and negative comments about the firing. Brad’s wife’s former manager has been forced to delete her LinkedIn page, and although the company does not allow other users to post to its Facebook wall, Facebook users have bombarded any posts by Cracker Barrel with thousands of comments about “Brad’s wife.”

To this point, Cracker Barrel has not issued a comment about the firing. And frankly, there likely is no truly foolproof response the company can make. Since the reaction to Brad’s Facebook post has garnered so much attention, other employers are bound to face a similar campaign in the future. So what options are available?

Continue the course and say nothing.

Saying nothing may accomplish three purposes for a while:

  1. Time may cause the whole firestorm to pass
  2. Any publicity is good publicity, right?
  3. It gives the employer a time to try to reach some resolution with the employee.

But if the viral response continues unmitigated, some action probably will need to be taken.

Seize it and spin it.

Public relations firms often have success helping their clients to respond with humor to social media failures. But jokes can fall flat. Attempts at humor, particularly when it is related to someone losing their job, may be poorly received, leading to an ineffective campaign and possibly even worse levels of public goodwill.

Speak out.

An employer faced with a social media campaign springing from an employment decision could issue a public statement that simply notes that due to privacy concerns it cannot publicly comment on personnel decisions. Offering a public statement like this one might stymie damage to the brand and defuse the situation.

Halt the cease and desist letter.

No matter what course of action the company takes, sternly worded cease and desist letters are likely to be counterproductive in that they are likely to cause the employee (and his or her spouse) to dig in their heels and can prompt a whole new round of viral posts when the employee inevitably posts the cease and desist letter on Facebook.

The #BradsWife incident should prompt employers to think more about social media in the workplace and their social media policies. More employees are taking to social media to voice their concerns about the workplace. While social media policies are unlikely to protect employers from terminated employees or their concerned family members, social media policies can be an effective tool in protecting the company from truly rogue employees while they are employed.

Employers faced with a social media campaign against it must also consider whether and how to react to social media posts by current employees that may come to rally to the support of a terminated employee or otherwise comment about the workplace. As we have discussed on multiple occasions here, here and here, before disciplining employees for their social media posts, employers will want to evaluate whether the employees are exercising their protected rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to express workplace concerns or complaints.