Sacked for a LinkedIn Profile? Not Quite

Daniel J Smith recently posted "The cost of (Personal) social media accounts", here on RBC. In particular he reported on the tribunal currently being heard in Reading, UK, between John Flexman and his previous employers B.G. Group, a company he was employed by for 8 years.

With respect to Daniel, who I have a lotof time for, I think this post is a little over dramatic and missing certain key facts. It may be that because i'm based in "merry old England" that I have been following this case quite closely. I think the company probably made some errors in process, but the "ticking the box" was only a part of the disciplinary hearing the company were holding. It's also worth noting that John Flexman was not sacked as stated. The hearing is for constructive dismissal. In effect he left because he felt forced out, then brought about a tribunal claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages.

It has been quite widely reported in the UK press that the content on the profile that the company objected to was as follows:

"In the CV  Mr Flexman, who had worked at BG Group in various roles for eight years, stated the company had 'inadequate and ineffective global resource planning', 'lacked active talent management' and highlighted the fact the president of the firm's Italian branch was arrested over allegations of corruption."

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2082503/LinkedIn-Youre-Top-...

It was these points on the profile that the company really objected to, and asked to be removed. Contracts of employment always contain a clause that prohibits speaking or writing about the company in derogatory terms in public.As a senior HR Manager, I think we can safely assume Flexman was aware of his contractural obligations in this regard.

The evidence also suggests that rather than checking and monitoring profiles, the matter was drawn to management attention by another employee who complained about the content. In answer to your comment that the company might have had a quiet word,he was called to request that he change his profile and unclick the career opportunity box. He declined to do so as he was on a family holiday,and this was contributory to the break down of his relationship with his employers.

The company claims they have no objections to employees having LinkedIn profiles, and an quick check on LinkedIn shows that this to be the case, with 3,207 profiles listed against the company.http://www.linkedin.com/company/41804?trk=tyah

We also only have Flexman's comments available to us, as the company have correctly chosen not to comment until after the tribunal. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the tribunal is, and will be keeping a close eye.

In terms of 24/7, those who are employed under contract are governed by that contract 24/7, 7 days a week. In the same way as you can't act in a discriminatory or bullying way in the bar after work or conduct cyber bullying against another employee outside of office hours and not expect disciplinary action to be taken, you can't post what you want about the company because you are not at work. The obligations of your contract apply all the time, and apply to all parties.

This particular case concerns me because journalists and bloggers alike have picked up on the LinkedIn connection,especially the ticking of the career opportunity box. Whenever social media is involved, it makes the headlines, and word spreads fast via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social places. What other tribunals in Reading have attracted such media attention? Like many of these cases where social media is involved in a sacking, I think there is often more to the story. People are rarely sacked for one act or error of judgement.

The upshot of these posts and reports is that the fear of social media is fuelled, and it gets harder for those who are enthusiastic about the potential of these channels to get things implemented. Job seekers get scared to have a profile, or make their social places public, and this takes away some very useful tool in their job search. Companies move to restrict access or introduce new policy making real social media activity hard. They create a climate of fear, and this is not healthy for social recruiting.

Policy is not the solution as has been suggested. All companies should do is extend their comms policy and make contracts inclusive of social channels. Education, guidelines and training are far more effective than policy in my experience, concentrating on what you can do, rather than what you can't.

What I would call for is a bit more investigation from all of the social media enthusiasts, before posting indignation. I understand the reaction,my first thought was that the headlines looked concerning, there might be more to the story. Lets await the outcome, and look to share more success stories.

Bill

PS: If you don't trust the mail, you can also read about this story in:

The Telegraph

Huffington Post

The Sun

Forbes

The Guardian

Views: 3724

Tags: Constructive, Dismissal, Flaxman, In, John, Linked, Media, Panic, Social

Comment by Daniel J Smith on January 8, 2012 at 6:42am

Hi Bill, The version of the story I read was from The Telegraph. Thank you for adding a few more facts to the story from sources I admit not to have seen. If, People given contracts, are asked to live up to the obligation 24/7 then it would still behoove them to correct any "errors in judgment" over social media (in this case Linked In) postings. I did see some of his complaints about the company--"In the CV  Mr Flexman, who had worked at BG Group in various roles for eight years, stated the company had 'inadequate and ineffective global resource planning', 'lacked active talent management' and highlighted the fact the president of the firm's Italian branch was arrested over allegations of corruption."- and feel that any company feeling their reputation being threatened (especially if this led to a firestorm of similar complaints by employees at large) and still think a memo/ written direction would have been proper assuming this was the first documented case by the company. The fact that they even reached out to him to offer a settlement to keep it from going public seems like another screen that they are aware this may not look good to them. I will continue to follow this, and with your permission (as a Canadian and a fellow professional) offer another article on this subject when more information for or against is released. A contact is a contract and must be lived up to- no argument; and I agree that on second and third glance there may be more to the story. I just think that certain facts are currently being presented incorrectly and thought I would try to bring light to the most obvious--that it seems odd you lose your livelihood over incorrectly filling out a profile; and if that was the case; then everyone should submit their profiles for approval- so everything is sympatico across the board.

Early Sunday morning (5 am) in the Great White North

Daniel

Comment by Sandra McCartt on January 8, 2012 at 12:40pm
Daniel, as much as you would like to make this a case of "the man" controlling the freedom of employees to say any damn thing they want about their employer on public forums, it does not appear that was the case here.

It is fairly standard with a lot of companies to offer a severance package to an employee they are terminating with an agreement from the employee that they will not take legal action, reveal proprietary information or directly entice other employees to leave. It is not a smoke screen and no employee has to take it. Unless the employee has an employment contract that spells out severance no company is required to offer severance when they are terminating an employee. They often do with executive level employees because the cost in terms of time and money is less than any kind of law suit. It is better for all concerned that employment disagreements are not aired in public forums, company and departing employee.

The point I tried to make on your post and what Bill is pointing out here is that you posted a headline that was misinformation. He was not fired (sacked). Checking the box was a very minor point. He was asked to remove the two paragraphs in his profile that were derogatory but has taken the position that this was part of a witch hunt. They didn't just walk in and fire him for checking a box or even for the derogatory info he posted. He resigned. The point being that you may feel the company has no right to control what people say online but posting misinformation or only part of a story to sensationalize and support your own opinions creates more misinformation.

Granted all blogs are not journalism but just opinions of the individual posting but I think we all have some responsibility to try and tell the whole story after some research,if we are going to venture an opinion. Particularly when we are talking about
anything that is in the courts because there is always a ton of information not available.

I don't know where you got the "firestorm of complaints from employees at large". From what I have read they received one anonymous complaint, hardly a "firestorm". The news reports also indicate the company has several thousand employees who have linked profiles with the same box checked. If that is the case it indicates that the focus was not checking a box but the derogatory content. If it was a witch hunt as he contends there will be other information coming out as the hearings continue.

I don't know what facts you think are being presented incorrectly or how you would know but what are they and what is your source?
Comment by Karen Siwak on January 8, 2012 at 4:28pm

I read the original article, and Daniel's response, and frankly I think Sandra you are over-reacting in your critique. I'm not seeing facts being presented incorrectly, but rather ideas being put forward for discussion.

Daniel isn't arguing against using social media, but rather reminding job seekers to be conscious of what they choose to share. An employer, perhaps not this employer in this case, but any employer, may take exception to you advertising your availability for new opportunities. An employer, perhaps not this one, but any employer, may take exception with you sharing their dirty laundry in public. 

If nothing else, this case can serve as a reminder why one's LinkedIn profile and one's resume should not be the same, and why LinkedIn won't replace traditional resumes. In a resume, you want to tell the full story - the situation, strategy and results. In LinkedIn, you would be prudent to limit yourself to the results.

Comment by Daniel J Smith on January 8, 2012 at 6:27pm

Wow, what an afternoon when I turn off the computer. Where do I begin? On January 5th I released the blog entitled

"The Cost of (Personal) Social Media Accounts" and I created some conversation around a realistic/ hypothetical situation. In that post I did not name either the individual or the company involved. Simply put, I don't claim to have all the information on this particular case, or to even give more than a thought or an opinion on this matter.  What I tried to do was put things in a "What If?" scenerio, because as the Social Media arena grows, this will not be the last time this issue will come up. On Friday, Sandra, you yourself hit the nail square on the head when you wrote "In the final analysis, If you want something to be private, don't post it on the Internet, or put it in an e-mail. There is no valid expectation of privacy once anything has been put in writing, posted, published or sent to another person"-->That is exactly what I was going for. I will follow this case, and I will continue to offer my points of view on all things which cross my desk that need to be addressed. I will never know absolutely all the details (any more than anyone else) in any affair, and am just trying to get people thinking. Thank you to Karen for seeing what I was saying for what it was.  

Please re-read all that was written before commenting, some things have already been blown out of proportion and I now have words coming from my keypad which were not typed. Bill, this particular incident is better coming from you as it is occurs in your country, and you would have more relevant information on "the case".

Comment by Bill Boorman on January 8, 2012 at 7:21pm

Daniel, Sandra and Karen,

Thanks for your comments. This post started as a comment on Daniels blog and ended being too long, hence the separate post.

Daniel, The important point for me was that this was a real story coming from England, and the story had been quite high profile, because you were commenting on a real story (that made you shake your head), I didn't read it as the "what if" scenario. I took it as a comment on this case.

I have read many posts and articles that have all picked up on the same thing. 

That Flaxman was sacked - He wasn't.

That Flaxman was sacked for ticking the looking for work box - He wasn't.

That the company should have had a quiet word - They did.

My concern remains that the more people focus on this part of the story, then the very champions of social media scare away potential users who could otherwise benefit from the channels. The reality is that there is very little to fear, and the solution to any potential problems is education, training and discussion, not policy.You don't need my permission to blog about anything, Keep posting.

Sandra,

You are quite right in your comment that offering severance is no admission. This is quite common here, where tribunals are costly to defend, and time consuming. I think there is much more to this story than ticking a box, and I wanted to add my view to put the story in context of everything that came out of the hearing, rather than a part of it. Thanks for picking up on this.

Karen,

I'm not sure the information on the LinkedIn profile should be on a resume either. Theres time to discuss these matters at interview.

Bill

Comment by Sandra McCartt on January 8, 2012 at 9:55pm

@Karen.  I don't think i am over reaacting at all.  Daniel did go on to address social media profiles but the problem i had was that he referred to a specific case  the first line or maybe second in the article was in quotes. "One such story which has been making the rounds starts in (not-so) Merry England where “A human resources executive was forced from his job because his employer found his resume online and that he would consider career opportunities”.

Not factual.  As  both Bill and i have pointed out.  He was not forced from his job because his employer found his resume online and that he would consider career opportunities.

 

Daniel went on to opine that they should have issued him a memo or had aquiet word.  As Bill said and i said and is reflected in all the news reports....they did.  So again albeit Daniel now indicates he was talking about a hypothetical situation or sort of based on his reference to this specific situation, he didn't get the facts right.

 

The headline was  "The Cost of (personal) Social Media Accounts"  followed by the above quote indicating that the it was a social media account ie; a resume and checked box that forced him from his job.  Perhaps  if Daniel were going to refer to this specific story it might have been prudent to include all the facts as reported.  ie' the derogatory remarks within the profile and perhaps a headline that said, "The Cost of  making derogatory statements about your employer in your (personal) Social Media Profile."

 

In Daniel's response to Bill above he indicates t"I just think that certain facts are currently being presented incorrectly and thought I would try to bring light to the most obvious--that it seems odd you lose your livelihood over incorrectly filling out a profile; "

Thus my question to him.  What facts did he feel were being presented incorrectly and his source.?

 

I didn't read it as a "What if" either.  Daniel is correct that profiles need to be reviewed but he has a lot of opinion in there about "The Man" telling employees what they can and can not put in a profile. After giving the impression that this person was fired for having his profile on linkedin with a box checked.   I simply don't think when we take bits and pieces of something that is really going on in the real world to shore up our opinions that we should leave out the facts of the real world , particularly when we put it in quotes.  That is my point as to misinformation by ommission if you will.   If that is over reacting then i am certainly guilty as charged and that bes my opinion.

 

Oh and Castro is not dead according to the news reports, no matter what anybody read on twitter.  It's too easy to start stuff that spreads like wildfire that can have real unintended consequences.

Comment by Karen Siwak on January 9, 2012 at 10:47am

@Bill, if a jobseeker waits until the interview to share the context for his achievements, there's a good chance there won't ever be an interview. There is a way of telling the story that balances discretion with disclosure, and that's where smart resume strategy comes in to play. 

@Sandra, I realize that you didn't read it is as "what if", but many of us did.

Comment by Daniel J Smith on January 9, 2012 at 4:56pm

I told my wife I would leave sleeping dogs lie.....But....Castro died?

Comment by Karen Siwak on January 9, 2012 at 6:28pm

He did, Daniel, didn't you know?! It was all over twitter :)

Comment by Bill Boorman on January 9, 2012 at 7:20pm

Time for a blog on the topic? 

Comment

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