Firing a problematic employee isn’t the only option for dealerships, but many take that route — particularly when evidence of discrimination is shared widely online.
Stephen Stern, an employment and commercial litigation attorney in Maryland, said most employment is at-will, meaning employers can terminate employees for any reason. Notable exceptions to at-will termination include anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation/whistleblower statutes, some common-law exceptions and contractual agreements such as collective bargaining.
Some states have implemented protections for off-duty conduct, but in cases where what employees do on their personal time impacts the company’s business, Stern said it is understandable that those companies take action to protect the brand.
If an employee were to sue for wrongful termination after being fired for online misbehavior, their social media conduct is not above scrutiny.
“You still have to go through the processes to get [social media posts] admitted properly, but it is certainly evidence that can be — and has been — used in a variety of cases,” he said.
Martin Automotive Group, one of the nation’s largest black-owned franchised dealership groups, fired the general manager of its Martin Dodge-Jeep-Chrysler-Ram dealership in Bowling Green, Ky., in April 2019 when a video of the employee using derogatory and racist language was found online.
Chadwick Martin, president of Martin Automotive Group, said with several hundred employees it’s difficult to unearth an employee’s viewpoints before they’re vocalized. When something does become public, it’s “hurtful and shocking,” especially as a black family-owned business, Martin said. Also painful, he said, is when your business is labeled based on the social media post even “when it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“That’s why it’s really important for us to show each and every employee that we don’t tolerate that,” Martin said. “There are economic consequences for having people who use hateful rhetoric in your business.”