It all started with a retweet. A recent story regarding the “deactivation” and subsequent reinstatement of an Uber driver in Albuquerque is a useful reminder for employers that, given the widespread use by employees of social media, employment decisions should not only be well thought out, but also should take into account potential negative publicity.
During a period while he was on hiatus from driving for Uber, Christopher Ortiz merely retweeted an article referenced as “Driving for Uber, not much safer than driving a taxi,” without commenting on the article. When he sought to resume driving for Uber a couple of months later, Ortiz received an email from Uber stating that his driver account had been “permanently deactivated due to hateful statements regarding Uber through social media.” The e-mail referenced the title of the article that Ortiz had retweeted. Ortiz immediately tweeted a screenshot of Uber’s email, and the story was picked up by websites such as Forbes and BuzzFeed.
Within hours, Uber reversed its decision and reactivated Ortiz’s driver account. Ortiz then tweeted a screenshot of Uber’s message reinstating him, which subsequently was retweeted numerous times.
In this situation, each of Uber’s communications with Ortiz was made public and broadcast within seconds of its transmission to Ortiz. It took only minutes for Uber’s termination decision to get attention from national media outlets. The fact that information regarding employers’ hiring and firing decisions can become subject to public scrutiny at such a rapid pace should serve as a reminder to employers to carefully assess how they approach these decisions and how they react to the decisions’ aftermath. For example, retracting an employment decision, particularly if it is publicized, could embolden other employees to publicize negative employment decisions affecting them in the hope those decisions too will be retracted.
As noted at the outset, employers should contemplate, as part of their decision-making process, that any employment decisions they make, and particularly those they may e-mail to their employees, potentially could be broadcast publicly and be subject to the court of public opinion through various forms of social media. As demonstrated by this incident, once a story gains traction on social media, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to control the ramifications.