Tis the season of goodwill. Well, for most of us at least…

Over in Oxfordshire, a pub has just dismissed one of its chefs. We don’t really know much about why, or whether it was reasonable. One might venture that the dismissal of a chef just 10 days before Christmas is unlikely to be unfounded, but that is pure conjecture. The only details seen thus far are that the chef had asked for time off in December and that this may have gone down less than happily, but actually the reason for his demise is not the interesting thing about this story.

In a scenario that lawyers have warned about for some time, the dismissed chef, it turns out, had the password to the pub’s Twitter account. Feeling more than a little disgruntled, he decided to post a series of Tweets as if from the owners which publicised his dismissal, that he has a young child, and (perhaps worst of all) that some of the pub’s prime meats were (allegedly) purchased from a local supermarket, despite their somewhat more glamorous write up on the menu.

I am both geographically and gastronomically sufficiently detached from the whole situation to be able to simply take it at face value and enjoy it. However, in Great Haseley, Oxfordshire, home of The Plough, the issue will be of greater concern. The pub’s clientele will be largely local, many will know the chef in question, and the adverse PR that arises from these incidents (whether on a local or international scale) will be unlikely to do the business in question any good at all (even if Max Clifford did once say that “no publicity is bad publicity”, an opinion to which he clung tenaciously until his public arrest on suspicion of multiple sexual offences in December 2012 and is perhaps now revisiting).

It is vitally important that employers are able to control the messages and opinions that are published in their name. The potential damage to your brand and to your reputation is huge, and there are some simple preventative measures that can be used to prevent it happening.

  1. Employers should ensure that they have both the skills and technological means to control their social media accounts, whether on Twitter, Facebook or any other site.
  2. Make sure that more than one person has the password, so that if a bitter employee has access to the account, you can change the password pronto and limit any potential damage. However, that also means that (a) you should not dismiss both of them at the same time and (b) that you need to change the password before your dismissed employee does it for you.
  3. Ensure that you have appropriate contractual clauses or policies on the use of social media – try to cover both employee responsibility during employment, and a requirement for them to hand over any passwords or other account information that they have on leaving. Not much help after the employee has already been given his cards, but potentially useful ammunition prior to that.

The Plough could well end up having a busier Christmas than usual, thanks to its new found notoriety, though there may well be a run on the fish, but don’t let your business take the same risk.