Called a Racist on Facebook–Worried It Will Hurt My Business

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being labeled racist by an employee

I own a small restaurant with 5 servers and 2 cooks.  I have been doing an excellent level of business with no issues.  I do have a set of rules and have discussed how to prepare/cut/serve the desserts but the servers often cut pieces extra large.  That is what happened.  She did and I asked her to follow the portion size.  She then cut the pieces in half and then it was too small.  Any time I have need to provide instruction or training to this one server, it results in a flare up. She feels I treat her differently because she is black.  I do the exact same thing with all servers.

I live in a small rural town and the posting she has made on FB have been the talk. She called me a racist; rated the restaurant poor and stated I am a racist.  The post has been commented on, shared and posted other places.  The newspaper called me for a comment but I said no comment.  It is just wrong and very one-sided.

How do you write a clear response to a false accusation of being a racist by an employee who walked out?

There is no basis, but she put it on Facebook and it is very aggressive, hateful, and damaging to my business. It has been gaining momentum with folks sharing and commenting. I need to respond but do not want to say the wrong things. She walked out. which is now going on 5 times – I had to correct her on the way a dessert was handled and she just blew up. I am in the food service business.

The young lady has been living in my home for the past 4 months as well as dating my son for approximately 9 months. I am the owner of the business, white and female. My son is white and works for my restaurant. The young lady did work for my restaurant, but this is about the 5th time she walked out and said she was done but asked if she could come back. The young lady is black. Please help

Signed Told FB I’m Racist

Dear Told FB I’m Racist:

Congratulations. You must be doing almost everything right to manage a home-owned restaurant! That is a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s amazing to be able to say you have “an excellent level of business with no issues.” However, of late managing your workplace has been complicated by a disgruntled minority employee who has flared up and left five times. And recently she posted on Facebook accusations of racism and an unfavorable evaluation of your restaurant.

A desire to respond to that employee’s accusation you are racist and have a “poor restaurant” is natural. You feel this accusation is untrue and criticism of your restaurant is unjust. Because they were posted on Facebook, you feel that has drawn unfavorable attention that could hurt business in your small rural town. It might. But also might it bring to your defense others who know you and patronize your restaurant? For those who know the quality of your restaurant, isn’t the FB posting rather likely to bring criticism of the employee?

To obtain a second opinion, I submitted your question and the additional information you submitted to Danica Rice, an HR specialist who has worked with several different companies. Her remarks merit consideration. First, her advice concerning you posting something on Facebook:

“With regard to a response about the message she has put on social media there have been cases of individuals that have lost jobs behind doing things like this. Again putting policies in place to ensure that people don’t defame the company name is important and ensuring that they understand the ramifications if it takes place is important. I know that I can post whatever I want on social media but I am mindful when it comes to venting and/or ranting about work related things. Even though I do not have coworkers on my page I never refer to someone that I may work with so a rule of thumb for me is just don’t post it. I acknowledge not everyone is like that. Sometimes not responding is just as powerful as responding so I challenge and caution her to be careful prior to putting up a response. I am not comfortable with providing a sample response because I am not sure what types of comments have been made so I wouldn’t want to mislead her.”

Should you post on Facebook a reply to this employee’s accusation? If so what would that be? My answer to this question is that it is best to not respond. I predict other of your customers will come to your defense especially if she persists with more postings. If she doesn’t persist, the whole matter will fade. Whereas, if you respond, even nondefensively, the issue will get legs.

I imagine if a local newspaper wants to pursue the matter, some reporter will patronize your restaurant unannounced and then ask for an interview. You can disclose the situation fully as you have done with us, or you can respond, “I want our food and service to stand for itself. I prefer not to comment on personnel matters. Thank you for visiting our restaurant. You are always welcome as is anyone in our community.”

Now to related questions about where do you go from here as to allowing this young woman to return to work and regarding her living in your home. Danica’s advice about the matter of this woman working in your restaurant begins with:

“There is a simple and easy fix that forces me to pose the following questions to the business owner: Does she have an employee handbook that defines reasons for corrective action and/or termination? If yes, simply adhere to the handbook (as long as the previous accounts have been documented she has covered herself) If no, has she at least documented the previous accounts?

I actually can think of a variety of additional questions, but the thing she needs to truly assess is how does she want her business to run? Can it function properly with employees just up and quitting? Regardless of ethnic background, would she tolerate this behavior from anyone else? Why has she been allowing an employee to live with her (that is a conflict of interest right there)? Why does she feel it’s okay to keep allowing someone who cannot take constructive criticism back into her business? Business is not about favoritism (regardless if it is family owned, small, or large). There are policies and procedures that can be put in place to protect against behaviors and it sounds like this business owner needs to take the necessary steps to ensure that she doesn’t run into this situation moving forward.

Documentation is going to be key and policies/procedures in place is next, then simply implement. This may not be what she wants to hear because it may demonstrate where she has been deficient but life is all about learning from mistakes made.”

Then after receiving your additional information, Ms. Rice wrote: This is horrible. My next question would be: is this server the only African American worker that she has? Again, has she documented everything that has transpired? When I asked about policies and procedures I wasn’t referring to the position itself. I was asking about handbook policies and procedures or guidelines. It sounds like she may not though and that could be to her detriment even though she is a small business owner. This employee is a bad seed for sure and shouldn’t be permitted to work for her any longer, but if you as owner continue to condone the behavior by letting her come back after her performance, then you really have no cause for complaints.”

From Ms. Rice’s Human Resource perspective, a workplace needs policies regarding a number of matters; in your small restaurant that would entail cause and procedure for discipline leading to firing and also policy regarding no discrimination as to race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. The story is that most small restaurants do not have a policy book, but rather they make policy when a situation arises, such as with this woman angrily quitting and posting this accusation and her mean remarks. Probably, now you will put in writing policies for the future and will provide that information to your employees. This doesn’t have to be done immediately. I think it is wise for employees to be involved in creating and collaboratively reviewing policies. You may want to gradually involve them.

I don’t know how you handled the previous times this young woman walked out, but I expect they caused you to talk with her about her performance and attitude. Apparently, you thought it was good for you to allow her to return to work, perhaps because you felt pressured by the fact of son dating her and that you permitted her to live in your home.

I must state we give communication, not legal advice. Another guest respondent with a long history working with Human Resources, Dean Kearney, after reading your question, sent more ominous advice: “This is very bad and this person needs to consult a libel attorney immediately. Don’t try to do anything herself and make sure she tells the attorney the entire truth not just bits and pieces but everything. Otherwise if she lies about one thing the attorney will basically tank her case.”

Probably, Mr. Kearney’s concern will worry you, and it might be overstated. However, he suggests it would be wise to consult an attorney. I think if you do, it is best to do so quietly. Do not to mention the word attorney to anyone, even your son. An attorney should provide a private, free consultation, to help you determine if there is a need for one. You probably won’t need one unless this woman is malicious and seeks to hurt you.

We are not family counselors but it is obvious that the facts of this individual living with you and dating your son are related to the accusation of racist with which she labeled you. Your son probably is pressured by this woman he’s dating to take her side against you. To say the least, he is getting a real live picture of what it will be like if his dating evolves into something more permanent.

Also I sent a copy of your question to another alumnus from our School of Communication Studies because he is a successful owner/manager of restaurants. In his response, he stressed that “In this day and age, there is no room for racial ignorance….in  any and all shapes and forms.  People are people no matter what.” And he confirmed our advice that you should consult an attorney and emphasized you should have “policies in the workplace….that is, have a legally reviewed Employee Handbook!!!!!!” He is of the opinion that this employee should not be allowed to return. If allowed, before she should, she should “sign a document that clearly states that the owner is not responsible for whatever issues were broadcast via social media or otherwise,” and she should see that her “social media comments that can be removed….are removed…before returning to work.  Comments that can’t be removed should be recanted, etc.”

I hope this information doesn’t make it more difficult to know what you will do about your central concern about composing an appropriate Facebook response to the accusation of racist. I predict that you have had ample time to decide what to do about the larger issue regarding this woman. Learning to work cooperative and to manage conflict is important for this woman, perhaps especially important for her present and future,

Please understand that we know advice from a distance must be adapted to by those who are closest to a problem and evaluated rather than blindly followed. We also know that there is no perfect solution. We don’t want you to make this a bigger issue than it is. Don’t rush. Don’t make it a matter of discussion about this woman.

What counts is learning that conflict can be viewed as an opportunity for collaboratively doing what it takes to create a productive and pleasant workplace. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Another opinion, from Tina Rowe:

1. I do hope the young woman is not living in your home now! If your son can’t live without her, you know the answer to that, too. (I don’t mean to sound so harsh, but honestly, doesn’t it seem you have endured way too much from her? Your son should have more loyalty to you than that!) She is doing what she is doing now, because she doesn’t respect you or appreciate what you have done for her. Let that be your guide for your next actions.

2. I’m sure someone will suggest that you get an attorney about this. I also know how expensive that would be. Give this time to find out if it has a long-lasting effect on your business. Many people share FB posts, just to make fun of the person writing them. So, you may not have as much negative publicity as you think you will. People who know her know what she is like. People who know you know what you are like.

If you find out it has damaged you in a severe way over the next few weeks and it continues that way, it might be worth it to pay that much to an attorney, to get recompense for it. It may take you years to get it from her, but at least she would be held responsible. Writing untruths that have an adverse effect on a business is libel and there have been many cases of lawsuits related to libel in social media. They may not go far, but they get the attention of the person doing it and also tends to cause them to lose their credibility.

3. As far as statements to a newspaper go. I realize you may prefer to say nothing and an attorney would advise the same thing. As the old saying goes, “Don’t chase a lie. Let it run itself out.” However, if you feel you must say something to someone who asks you directly, stick to this:

“This is an unfortunate situation involving a young employee who has a relationship with my son and has lived in my home for a year. She quit when I corrected her work. I don’t intend to discuss it, but I’m sure most people will see through the bad talk to the reality of the situation.”

Then, just make that a broken record. If the person agrees with you, don’t add to it with more details, just say, “Thanks for your support. I’m sure most people will see through the bad talk to the reality of the situation.”

If they say they believe her, don’t provide a defense, just say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, I hope you will think about it and see the reality of the situation.”

I’ll also remind you to not be involved with Facebook right now—not to write or even to thumbs up someone. I’m aware of a similar situation and the employer kept posting religious thoughts, Bible verses, sayings about gossiping, etc. etc. Everyone knew who she was referring to, and it made it look as though she was trying to appear oh-so-saintly. She would have been better off posting nothing.

4. Have you had anyone speak up on your behalf anywhere? Your employees? Your customers? Your friends? If not, that might be an indicator that although you may not be racist, you may be unpleasant in the way you correct employees. I don’t think you would be, but that would be something to consider, if you aren’t getting much support from those who work for you.

5. Consider this, since you know everyone is talking about it anyway: Talk to your employees as a group and say that you want them to know your intention in correcting someone is to ensure that work is done right and that the business makes a profit so you can stay in business and keep them employed. However, you always try to be respectful about it and you will be doubly diligent about that in the future.

Never admit something like, “I may have said something that could be taken wrong, etc. etc.” If you do that, you might as well admit you did it. So, never admit wrongdoing, unless you believe it and want to apologize.

In this case, just don’t admit anything about anything. You are an employer and you make it possible for people to have jobs and a salary. You should treat people respectfully, but you are not obligated to ensure they like being corrected or be so nice about correction that they don’t feel they really did anything wrong. Cake may not mean much to an employee, but when you think about the cost as well as wasted food if servings are too large after dinner, it’s a significant issue. They don’t have to understand it to comply with it.

Here is a good statement to explain your thoughts and give them something to remember and quote later, if they’re asked: “It’s my goal to treat people respectfully and courteously, because that’s the way I want you to treat each other and our customers. I’m going to be extra careful about that in the future and I want you to be too.”

If other employees say something negative about the former employee, don’t go along with it, just say, “I appreciate your support. She’s not here and we can move on now. So, let’s put our focus on work.” Then, help them do it by not bringing it up again.

Those are my immediate thoughts and I hope they are helpful. I would, of course, love to see the Facebook pages involved, so if you want me to see them, send a link. Otherwise, I hope you’ll let us know how it works out.. It’s a very unfortunate situation and I wish the best to you.

Tina Rowe
As the Workplace Doctors