Earlier this week, Charlo Greene, a reporter for KTVA News in Anchorage, Alaska, issued a dramatic “live-to-air” resignation that no doubt stunned viewers and her in-studio colleagues alike.
Following a pre-taped report on the Alaska Cannabis Club (which, according to its Facebook page, “is a medical marijuana collective organized to serve patients throughout Alaska”), Ms. Greene announced to the television audience that she is “the actual owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club”, and that she “will be dedicating all of [her] energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska.” She then added, “And as for this job, well, not that I have a choice but… f*** it, I quit.”
Footage of Ms. Greene’s resignation very quickly leaped to YouTube, and – not surprisingly – news coverage of this story has attracted a mix of reader perspectives, ranging from congratulatory (e.g. predictable comments to the effect that “wouldn’t we all love to do something that!”) to dismissive (e.g. equally predictable comments denouncing Ms. Greene’s conduct as unprofessional).
Ms. Greene is not the first (and will certainly not be the last) employee to “go out with a splash” via a YouTube-worthy resignation. It is inevitable that there will be other dramatic (and, dare I say, entertaining) resignations devised and beamed out over social media by other employees looking to make a point, achieve a catharsis, or latch onto “15 seconds of internet fame” (not to be confused with “15 minutes of fame”, the antiquated pre-digital benchmark of notoriety).
That said, as an employment lawyer, I would encourage anyone contemplating a dramatic exit to “look (and look very carefully) before you leap.” The quest for 15 seconds of fame – at an employer’s expense – is a perilous exercise. Consider, for example, the following:
- The internet is forever. Once footage is posted to the internet, it is virtually impossible to reel back in.It remains in cyberspace – searchable and findable – in perpetuity. An employee doesn’t get to decide when the “joke is over” and that it’s time for the matter to disappear. Which brings us to the next point.
- What value do you place on your reputation? What seemed like a good idea yesterday won’t necessarily seem like a good idea tomorrow . . . and it may not look very good on a resumé either. Increasingly, employers go beyond the documentation that job applicants submit, and they reach out to the internet for additional due diligence on potential employees. And if a Google search turns up a splashy resignation (or other conduct that the prospective employer views as unprofessional) that could be enough to spoil an otherwise favourable impression, and send the candidate’s application to the bottom of the pile.
- Burning bridges is almost never a good idea. Most employers won’t be good-humoured about a resignation that is embarrassing, insulting or outright damaging to the company; and any employee who goes down that path should expect to be automatically disqualified from receiving a favourable reference. And from doing any business with that employer in the future. And from having any doors opened or introductions made by that employer in the future. Etc., etc., etc.
- Stated simply, burning a bridge is bad business; and it can have far-reaching (and potentially career-limiting) consequences that were never considered at the time the match was struck.
- Legal liability. In some cases, depending on the content of a “YouTube resignation”, an employer’s recourse may not be limited to withholding references and future cooperation. For example:
- Defamation is unlawful, and can give rise to litigation and damages.
- Likewise, if the departing employee’s comments seem intended to and/or have the effect of unlawfully interfering with the company’s relationships with its customers, suppliers, employees or others, he or she may face a lawsuit for intentional interference with contractual relations.
- And if the departing employee planned and/or disseminated his or her unlawful comments with the assistance of others, the employer may pursue a claim for unlawful conspiracy.
In short, there can be (in addition to the more latent and long-term reputational consequences described above) short-term and very serious costs associated with using one’s resignation to embarrass or take jabs at the employer.
Ultimately, any employee thinking to add drama and fanfare to his or her exit would do well to reconsider that course of action. . . and keep his or her resignation off of YouTube.