No employee likes being terminated, even when the reasons behind the termination were valid and in accordance with company disciplinary policies. Most exiting employees leave quietly and with little fanfare, but occasionally, a terminated employee will make disparaging and insulting comments about the company and its management, verbally and online, implying they were terminated unfairly and without cause. Some disgruntled former employees take things further, contacting current company employees or managers while on the job and make these same comments to them. When this happens, should the company respond? If so, how?
As frustrating as this might be, your best bet is to refrain from taking any direct action and just let it run its course. Trying to intervene and prevent this person from contacting your current employees will give your employees the impression you are trying to hide something and will add a level of credibility to the disgruntled employee’s story. But what if your employee is also trashing the company and/or manager on public internet sites? Clearly some companies have filed suits against former employees with mixed results for defamation, invasion of privacy and sought injunctions to stop the behavior. In many cases, filing the suit actually emboldened the former employee to increase their on-line rant, much like pouring gas on a fire. A better course of action would be to increase your positive on-line accounts.
Fortunately, most of your employees are going to get annoyed by what the former employee is attempting, either in person or online, and that will serve to discredit the remarks more than anything you do directly. Your employees are already far too busy to be bothered by a former employee who should be spending their time finding their next opportunity instead of trash-talking the company and its management.
The best remedy is to minimize the emotion inherent in an employee termination at the outset. It has been well documented that "how" we handle the termination process is a critical factor in determining whether or not the employee will carry negative feelings to another level post-termination. In fact, three factors provoke the most vengeful responses from former employees: surprise; perceived arbitrariness and unfairness; and employer inconsistency. You can often limit the emotional backlash and the perceived need to get even through a progressive disciplinary system, tied to meaningful employee evaluations, which gives employees fair warning and a chance to improve, and a structured grievance process which provides disgruntled employees with a forum for venting.
So if you find yourself in this situation, take the time to re-examine the circumstances and process that led to the termination to make sure everything was done properly and in accordance with corporate policy. Was the termination mishandled in any way? Were clear warnings given in keeping with your policies on progressive discipline? How effective was the manager in communicating their concerns to the employee? Did the previous performance reviews accurately reflect the employee's performance? Was everything documented along the way? If you are following your policies, this review should be just a formality to validate that your decision to terminate was fair and reasonable. If you find anything in your process was improperly handled, take the opportunity to improve your people practices by correcting it going forward.
And lastly, don't assume your employees understand your disciplinary policies. Communicate them early and often through a variety of means. Your employees should be both familiar with the steps involved in progressive discipline and be satisfied they are fair and applied consistently. Clearly employees who aren't aware of your process will be surprised when they are disciplined - a key ingredient that fuels vengeance. Another benefit to clear communication is that when employees hear remarks made by a disgruntled former employee, they are more apt to recognize that there is another side to the story.
How do you communicate your policies to employees? Please share below by providing a comment.