Former police lieutenant William Kelly is asking for his job back after the Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal. Norfolk, Virginia, police fired Kelly in April after he made an anonymous donation to a defense fund for Rittenhouse. Hackers outed what Kelly had wanted to be an anonymous donation, and the Norfolk police department then fired him.
It makes sense that Kelly would want his job back. It also brings up the real-life consequences of giving into an electronic mob. Kelly lost his job because of a $25 donation along with a short statement: “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Regardless of what you personally think, the jury found Rittenhouse not guilty. Should the police have given into the hackers and the internet mob? Or should they have chalked it up to a difference of opinion?
It’s easy to sit around and discuss (or tweet) about someone else’s firing. But, what happens when your employee says or does something you disagree with? What happens when something happens that Twitter hates? Here are some steps to think through.
Conduct a thorough investigation.
You should never fire an employee without a thorough investigation, regardless of what goes viral on the internet. (The Norfolk police department said they conducted a thorough investigation.)The whole story is never shown in the brief video clip or tweet. For example, if an employee came to you and complained of racial discrimination, you would investigate before taking any action.
In the case of negative internet fame, you need to do the same thing. For instance, Chipotle fired a manager after a negative video accusing her of racism went viral. But, in this case, it turned out that she was not racist; the person making the video had a history of stealing food from the restaurant. Chipotle offered her the job back.
It would have made a lot more sense to investigate before terminating. You don’t want to remove an employee for a misunderstanding, a mistake, or misrepresentation.
Don’t appease the Twitter mob.
Twenty-three percent of American adults are on Twitter. That’s a lot of people, but almost 80 percent don’t log on with any regularity. Seventy percent of Twitter users are male, lean heavily left politically, and 92 percent of tweets come from just 10 percent of users.
So, while your employee may be getting utterly trashed on Twitter, it’s unlikely that the majority of your customers even know about it, let alone care. Before you decide to terminate an employee, ask yourself if you are benefiting your business or appeasing the tiny loud internet mob.
Keep punishment consistent for public and private behavior
If an employee stood on a street corner, wearing a company t-shirt and shouting racial epithets, and only you saw him, you’d probably fire him anyway. That’s not the type of person you want around. But in Lt. Kelly’s case, he didn’t even say anything publicly. It was hackers who uncovered his donation and statement.
Should the response be different if he had said it personally to someone while not representing the department?
If you wouldn’t fire someone for saying it in the break room or doing it at a family picnic, you shouldn’t fire them for posting it on Facebook or donating money.
Remember that the internet is forever, but memories are not.
Yes, you can Google someone’s name and find out that they were victims of an internet mob attack in 2017, but I’d challenge you to come up with anyone’s name from that time.
While it may seem horrible and forever damaging to your company to have something go viral, it will go away. Can you name the CEO who published an op-ed saying people who don’t go back to the office aren’t engaged in their work? That was just a little bit more than six months ago. Or the woman who made an Instagram post criticizing a job candidate’s swimming suit? That was two years ago.
Yes, if you Google, you can find these things, but really, the mob moves on. There will always be the next person to attack, and there will always be a new cause to champion.
While public employees have more free speech rights than private employees, always consider the message you want to send. Maybe you would have fired Lt. Kelly. Maybe you would recommend rehiring him now. Whatever decision you would make needs to be clearly thought through and balanced against your long-term business goals.