Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

“Quit-tok” – The risks of management decisions going viral

Employers should have robust processes to avoid reputational damage from private conversations leaking into the public, explains Thorntons employment law associate Andrew Wallace

“Quit my job with me”, “Quit-tok” and #layoffseason are just some of the recent social media trends in the US making employers think twice before making any significant decisions. Employers in the UK should be wary of similar behaviours being shown here too. These trends have involved employees covertly recording meetings with management where either they have been dismissed, or they have resigned and are often making their feelings about matters perfectly clear.

With the prevalence of social media and ease to record conversations without the knowledge of the other party, we are likely to see an increasing number of managers being left embarrassed by videos they were not expecting to leave the room.

Reputational risks

Organisations need to consider this as a risk to their business. Although some workplace situations may have limited risk from a legal perspective, for example where an organisation is seeking to dismiss an employee with less than two years’ service, these trends are a reminder to businesses of the benefits of being reasonable.

Although difficult messages will have to be delivered, it is always possible to choose how the message is delivered. If managers are not reasonable, for example they do not listen or take a moment to understand the employee’s perspective, then they run the risk of a disgruntled employee taking the conversation online.

Having the company’s laundry aired in public is generally best avoided for its potential impact on reputation, as well as its ability to maintain ongoing relations with current employees and hiring new ones. It should always be remembered that former employees are often the most effective advocates for a company.

How to combat the risk

Although organisations will often have rules in place prohibiting the recording of internal meetings, or from sharing company information widely, this is a small deterrent for an employee who believes that they are leaving in any event. The more effective method of reducing risk is to focus on the levels of communication.

Employees are becoming more accustomed to being provided with information and managers should be trained to deliver key messages. If a manager is open and honest with their employees, they are less likely to want to record a meeting, and it is less likely that any meeting will be interesting or controversial enough to be shared widely.

A failure to properly explain why the difficult decisions are being made only leaves an employee hungry for more information or invites them to consider their own theories. Organisations may not be obliged to, nor want to, share all of the relevant information, but they should always be mindful of the impacts and uncertainty that their decisions might have on the individual. A robust process accompanied by sufficient opportunity to inform and consult will reduce the desire for an employee to document the process on social media. Any consultation should provide the employee with a genuine opportunity to speak and be heard.

A warning for employees

Although the fear of reputational risks has made some companies in the USA consider being more reasonable or generous with their employees, posting videos of this nature does come with its own fair share of risk. They may make future employment more difficult or impact potential compensation in an employment tribunal.

Take the case of Phoenix House Limited v Stockman as a prime example. While a  tribunal held that the employee could have been entitled to compensation, the individual had covertly recorded the meeting, and the company’s zero tolerance policy on this meant the employee would have been dismissed in any event for gross misconduct. The compensation was therefore reduced to nil.

Social media, in all its forms, continues to grow and cause new difficulties for employers all the time. An employment lawyer can advise on employees’ use of social media, or how to use due process to reduce the risks of your manager becoming the next viral hit.

Andrew Wallace is an Associate in Thorntons’ specialist employment law team.