File this under: Only in the car business.
You know I talk a lot about automotive Social Media marketing but there’s another side to Social Media that comes into play involving employees. A lot of owners block Social sites from the dealership’s server in an effort to control what’s being said. However, with smart phones and other personal devices, employees bypass the store’s server and communicate with their network, including your customers.
The more advantageous way to incorporate Social sites into your business is to let your employees have access but also give them guidelines on how to behave. Just as the phone and email were revolutionary in their time, Social Media is today. Embrace Social Media for the value it brings you to increase sales AND make every effort to define your policies for employee use.
Last month, the National Labor Relations Board decided a case involving a BMW salesman. There were many factors that made this case unique. Most-notably, it was the first “Facebook Firing” and it came from a car dealership. Of course it came from a car dealership! Auto retail operations is filled with litigious situations and many labor laws were constructed on the backs of car dealers and their attorneys.
The salesman in question was terminated by the dealership for Facebook posts. He responded with a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Here’s the story: Another salesperson at the store had allowed a customer’s 13-year-old son to sit behind the wheel following a test drive. The boy apparently hit the gas, ran over his parent’s foot, jumped the wall and drove into a pond. (Like I said…only in the car business). The salesman who brought the suit posted photos of the accident with sarcastic commentary, including: “OOPS” on his Facebook page.
That same day, the salesman also posted mocking comments and photos with co-workers about the fact that his company decided to serve hot dogs, chips and bottled water at a prestigious sales event announcing a new BMW model. A week later, the salesman was fired.
The Board agreed with the Administrative Law Judge, who found after a trial, that the BMW salesperson was fired exclusively, and legally, for posting photos of the embarrassing and potentially dangerous accident at the adjacent Land Rover dealership owned by the same employer; not for the posts concerning the refreshments served at the new model sales event.
However, the three-person NLRB panel differed with the judge regarding a “Courtesy” clause in the BMW dealership employee handbook regarding employee communications. The “Courtesy” rule prohibited employees from being disrespectful or using profanity or any other language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership. They found the language of the rule to be unlawful because employees would reasonably believe that it prohibits any statements of protest or criticism. The Board therefore ordered the BMW dealer to remove the clause from its employee handbook and furnish employees with inserts or new handbooks.
There are two important lessons to be learned here:
1. Regardless of the medium it’s shared on, every employee must understand that when they share photos and comments, those posts reflect back on their own online reputation. From now until eternity, that salesperson’s name will be Googled and the details of this lawsuit will be read by every potential employer. What you share, says a lot about you – online and in real life. Make sure it’s exactly what you want others to know.
2. With the open and connected web, managing a dealership’s culture is more important than business strategy. How your employees view things is very often regurgitated to your customers. How do your employees behave when you’re not looking? The culture at each and every dealership should become the focus in today’s online world. What you say and do, says a lot about you.
There’s a growing backlog of Social Media cases pending before the NLRB and many of the questions about Social Media in the workplace haven’t been answered yet. What this case illustrates clearly though is that if one of your employees publishes something offensive or confidential on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, proceed with caution before taking action.