(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
“What kind of multi billion company gifts its Canadian employees barbecue sauce as a holiday gift? Yet the USA employees stuff their face with an actual holiday giftbox?”That was the tweet anonymously posted by Hussien Mehaidli right after the holidays. That was the tweet that also got him fired.
Mehaidli, a branch manager and employee at the Canadian subsidiary of industrial supply distributor Fastenal since 2013 is obviously not a fan of BBQ sauce. So much so that he expressed his disappointment with the gift given to him and his fellow employees by his employer. “I work really hard,” he told Canada’s CTV News. “We get pushed really hard to reach our sales goals. I felt I gave this company so much and I felt really disrespected when I was given barbecue sauce as a holiday gift.”
But was he right to publicly complain on Twitter about it, even anonymously? More importantly, was the company right to fire the guy? The answer is not as difficult as it sounds.
Clearly, times have changed. Once upon a time people came to work, kept their mouths shut and just did their jobs. But not so much anymore. The employee is now calling the shots.
Today’s employer has to be sure he or she is providing a safe work environment free of harassment and discrimination, pays a fair wage and offers an adequate level of benefits and flexibility in order to attract quality people. Even the generosity of their holiday gifts can come under scrutiny. Thousands of workers walked out of Google to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment and other internal cases. Facebook employees publicly voiced their concerns over their CEO’s behavior. Microsoft’s employees have outwardly displayed displeasure with their employer’s lack of action on climate change. Hundreds of Nike employees rallied against the company’s naming of a building after track coach Alberto Salazar because of his alleged treatment of women.
And let’s not forget BBQ sauce.
Employees clearly feel more emboldened to speak out about their employers. Why is this happening? Maybe it’s because the job market is tight and good people are in short supply. Maybe it’s because there’s now technology that makes speaking out easier, or a social media audience hungry to jump all over any perceived political incorrectness. Maybe it’s just people feeling more comfortable to exercise their freedom of speech and not caring about the consequences. Whatever the case, employers like Fastenal are struggling to grapple with the issue…and sometimes with…well…mixed results.
In Fastenal’s defense, the company’s actions weren’t inconsistent with the actions taken by other big brands. Google and Amazon, for example, have also fired – or threatened to fire – employees who have publicly spoken about the companies’ actions.
The law is mostly on the side of the employer. Many companies have written policies that outline what they define as acceptable behavior both in and out of the office and most employees when they accept a job also accept the conditions that go along with it.
“Before creating online content, (employees must) consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved,” The Society for Human Resource Management’s Cooper Nye told the Star Tribune. “Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow associates or otherwise adversely affects members, customers, suppliers, people who work on behalf of [employer] or [employer’s] legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
But these are different times. These are social media times. And what may seem like a reasonable policy to your HR people may not be so reasonable in the very politically-correct world that we live in. Mehaidli’s tweet went viral and created an online firestorm. People were furious at Fastenal’s decision to fire him, with many hurling insults at the organization and some vowing to boycott the company’s products. The media (like me) are always on the lookout for stories like this and what seems like a small, internal issue can quickly explode into a national debate, with your company’s name and reputation in the middle of it.
So what’s the best solution? In Fastenal’s situation – and assuming there are no other extenuating circumstances that impacts Mehaidli’s job performance – they should probably cave and bring him back, accompanied by a public apology that can hopefully be publicly accepted by Mehaidli.
More importantly for Fastenal and the rest of us who are struggling with these types of HR issues, what can be done to avoid this kind of embarrassment in the future? The solution simply comes down to one word: process.
Even Fastenal’s CEO admitted that “calmer heads didn’t prevail over this” and that the decision was made without consulting him. No one says that every HR issue has to reach the level of the CEO. But it’s not enough today to just have a policy. Every company, regardless of size, must have a procedure for evaluating infractions, complaints and other problems that involves multiple managers and even the employee before a final decision is made. The process needs to be documented, signed off, communicated and filed.
Yes, that may take a few extra days – even weeks – to complete. But the additional time and diligence will likely be worth it. Calm down people. Take a deep breath. Don’t make knee-jerk decisions.
And for what it’s worth, I kind of agree with Mehaidli. BBQ sauce for a holiday gift? C’mon, Fastenal…you can do better than that.