The Right Ways to Deal with a Disgruntled Former Employee Online and Offline
Firing an employee has its consequences. And a disgruntled former employee has the ability to destroy your company's reputation by badmouthing or spreading rumors. With the thought that they have nothing to lose or they simply want to exact vengeance, they can be quite vindictive.
What can you do to minimize the damage? How should you react so as not to worsen the situation?
What you do and how you react depends on the channel used. However, the premise behind the actions you take is the same.
On social media
What better way for a former employee to speak negatively about your company to a bigger audience than through social media?
Because anyone can say anything about everyone in such platforms, the damage can be catastrophic. Imagine if partners, vendors, and prospective clients get to read a disgruntled employee's negative comments?
Your company is sure to be fodder for wild speculations and bad talks.
How you handle the situation can douse the fire or fuel it. Because everyone is watching, you need to tread carefully.
Address the former employee directly
This is the most practical approach, with the situation discussed between the parties involved and no one else. There are different ways to do this.
- Give them a call in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Talking is always a good way to ensure no one misread your tone.
- If you respond via social media use succinct language. Be very clear that you don’t want to respond on social media and the problem should be discussed privately or internally.
- You can also suggest that the former employee contact HR directly.
- Appeal to a former employee’s friend who is still actively employed in the company. Have that friend reach out to the employee and appeal to their positive side.
Pursue legal action
This especially applies to the private sector where an employer is within their rights to sue a foul-mouthed former employee. You can send a cease and desist as a scare tactic. Or file a suit when the former doesn't work.
Issue a public statement
Most of the time, if you don't react to someone's negative comments, many would speculate that the accusations are true. If dealing with a problem privately doesn't work, issue a statement that denies all allegations and expresses regret that the former employee refused to deal with the matter privately.
It is important that, when dealing with this kind of situation on social media, you remain diplomatic and in control. Never stoop to a disgruntled employee’s level.
Given this kind of possibility, it is better to be proactive and take steps to ensure that terminating an employee will not result in a social media circus. Create a social media policy that outlines rules of engagement for employees.
In the real world
Regardless of the method that a former employee uses in harassing your business, follow the same approach as you would on social media.
Reach out privately first.
If this doesn't work, focus on what matters most—your company and your active employees.
To keep the boat from rocking too much, so to speak, you should:
- Stay calm and professional. No need to stoop down to a disgruntled employee’s level by fighting negativity with negativity.
- Remind everyone about the organization's purpose, mission, goals, and accomplishments. Focus on the positive side of things and help boost morale.
- Inform your allies about the situation and arm them with facts and details. Set out countermeasures with their support.
- Respond to rumors immediately. Put out a counter-story that is accurate, persuasive, and without insults.
- Let it go and move forward. Focus on developing exciting plans instead so everyone’s attention is diverted to something more rewarding and productive.
It is not enough to deny accusations. You should also show everyone that you operate by principles and sway public opinion in your favor.
In the event that harassment takes physical form and your employees are in danger, take steps to protect them. Report any threats made and, when a former employee shows up at your place of business angry, contact the proper authorities.
Remember to document everything. This will prove handy when you have to pursue legal action.