There’s no nice way to tell someone that they’re losing their job, but a fast food restaurant in New Zealand has set a new low by firing three workers over Facebook. Staff at the Pita Pit in Wellington received messages via the social network to inform them that they no longer had jobs at the restaurant.
Two of the workers affected, 20-year old Taryne Cullen and 19-year old Brooke Adams spoke to local newspaper The Dominion Post about the affair. The restaurant has recently changed hands and the new management advised staff of their working hours via a private Facebook page. When they saw that their names didn’t appear on the most recent rota, they were informed by private message that they were no longer needed at the restaurant and asked to return their uniforms. One of the dismissed staff members had worked at the restaurant for almost two years, while another had worked there for over three years.
The restaurant owner has expressed regret over the incident and admitted that it could have been handled better, although it seems that none of the affected workers has been offered a new position.
The case has already caught the eye of employment law experts, with some discussion of the legal implications of using Facebook to fire staff. Although the fast food workers were, in each case, casual employees with no contracts, the length of service involved entitles them to protection against dismissal under New Zealand law. It is not yet known whether they will take action against their formal employer.
Anthony Russell, a New Zealand employment expert, said that the case violated principles of fairness that required employers to speak to staff before making a decision to terminate employment, and to show respect when delivering the bad news.
Social media has had a huge impact on recruitment and employment around the world. Recent surveys suggest that 37% of companies will check a candidate’s Facebook profile before making a hiring decision, while almost 92% of firms are using social media in their recruiting strategies, either through advertising or by headhunting on professional networks like LinkedIn.
Since the rise of social media usage, employees all over the world have found themselves in trouble over ill-advised Facebook posts. Courts have struggled to balance individual freedom with the needs of employers. In January of last year, a judge in Buffalo, New York ruled that employees could not be dismissed for discussing working conditions on Facebook, even if their comments were negative. At around the same time, an employment tribunal in the UK ruled that Apple was in the right when they dismissed a Genius Bar employee who took to Twitter to rant about his job.
Few regulations exist in any country to govern the role social media should play in employee relations. So if a fast food restaurant or any other type of business wants to use Facebook to fire their workers, there’s nothing to explicitly prevent them, whether we “Like” it or not.
By Bernard O’Leary