Loyalty to one’s employer is a fast disappearing quality it seems and it is not hard to imagine the following scenario: After terminating an especially difficult employee, you have learned that she has posted derogatory comments on social media about you (the person who terminated her), your company and your company’s product. A good client has also told you that the employee called him to vent about how you treated her. You are angry and you want to stop her from making further disparaging and false statements. What do you do?
The first thing you should do is take a deep breath and ask yourself if this is really going to amount to much? Unless the employee worked in a high-profile or highly visible position like the White House, for a Hollywood celebrity or for a corner office executive of a Fortune 500 company, or the comments raise serious allegations of misconduct like accusations of sexual harassment, the press is unlikely to be interested in your disgruntled employee’s termination. A Facebook posting that may be seen by, at most, a couple hundred acquaintances of the terminated employee is unlikely to have much traction and will quickly be forgotten. Trying to respond to what the employee is saying may only encourage further postings or increase the likelihood of such a post going viral.
As for responding to any customers who may have been contacted by the angry ex-employee, you should be careful. Even though the former employee may be slamming you, you should avoid making any statements about the employee and the reasons for her termination beyond telling the customer that the employee no longer works for you and it is your policy not to discuss personnel issues. Even though truth is a defense, you don’t want to give the ex-employee any reason to bring a defamation lawsuit. You can, however, respond to any false allegations that your ex-employee has made about your business or your product.
Of course, there may be times when you really cannot ignore the problem. If the ex-employee is breaching her contractual or common law duties not to divulge confidential information or trade secrets, a letter from your lawyer — and in some cases a temporary restraining order — may be needed to stop the ex-employee. Similarly, if the ex-employee’s disparaging remarks are being widely disseminated, you may need to take a more active public relations approach to counter any untrue statements with the truth. More often than not, however, an isolated outburst from a former employee has no more effect than a toddler’s tantrums and is best ignored.