On February 27, 2017, Bradley Reid Byrd posted on his own Facebook page that his wife Nanette was terminated by her employer of eleven years Cracker Barrel.
When he failed to receive a response, he then posted on Cracker Barrel’s official Facebook page: “why did you fire my wife?”
An exchange followed on the restaurant’s social media page where he explained that his wife was fired from her retail manager position after over a decade with only the explanation that she “wasn’t working out.” This caused an uproar on the internet. The hashtag #justiceforbradswife was born; memes followed; and Cracker Barrel’s social media accounts (and marketing pages – even from many weeks prior to the alleged termination) have been trolled with comments about Brad’s wife. #justiceforbradswife is trending on both Facebook and Twitter. Cracker Barrel, as of the time of writing in May 2017, had yet to respond, fueling the internet furor – and deluge of Cracker Barrel’s social media accounts – regarding the firing of Brad’s Wife. As of the end of April 2017, Brad was still updating his Facebook followers with the news that another week had passed but he had still not received any further information from Cracker Barrel. The story had been covered on national media sites from the Washington Post to People.com. A Change.org petition, demanding that Cracker Barrel explain the firing of Brad’s Wife, obtained over 25,000 signatures. Cracker Barrel’s innocent advertisement asking “Who would you buy these fabulous flamingo tumblers for?” was met with 652 comments – including gems like “Brads wife can hold one while she pan handles in the street to make ends meet since you fired her with no explanation after 11 years of loyal service. “
For employers, this kind of public relations scenario – particularly when social media can make a person or event famous in a few short clicks – is something to be avoided if at all possible. In addition to interfering with Cracker’s Barrel’s designated marketing campaigns, customers have boycotted the restaurant in protest. And, it has made Cracker Barrel the punchline – literally and figuratively – in hundreds of jokes. The question, then, is how to avoid such a situation?
There are some simple steps employers can take, during and at the end of the employment relationship, to help prevent a #justiceforbradswife situation.
- First, if you are having performance issues with an employee, it is important to speak with the person and document those conversations. An employee should never be surprised that they are being fired for performance – if you are doing your job right as an employer, that person should ideally already be looking for a job when you have the termination meeting. They should see the proverbial “writing on the wall.”
- If you do decide to terminate, don’t just tell the person “it’s just not working out,” as allegedly happened to Brad’s Wife. Instead, be clear why the Company has made the decision, while still being gracious, kind, and dignified when doing so. While the employee will not be happy to be terminated, at least she will understand the basis for the decision.
So, if you want to hopefully avoid this type of social media disaster, take some good common-sense steps in employee-relations management. Be clear in your expectations, document deficiencies properly, and address problems head on. And if you’ve followed all of these steps and are still having a PR disaster? A lawyer can only help so much — remember to also have your trusted PR consultant on speed-dial, too!