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What do you do when employees bypass your social media policy as we saw at Amazon this week?

Square One Law senior associate Roisin Patton assesses the recent media coverage surrounding Amazon and it’s response to claims by the New York Times.

If you have not yet read the New York Times article on Amazon as a workplace and the subsequent impassioned response from Nick Ciubotariu, Amazon’s Head of Infrastructure Development, you should.

The New York Times article and its negative depiction of Amazon as a place to work has stirred up lots of debate about work cultures, but what interests me, as an employment lawyer, is the reaction of Nick Ciubotariu.

Mr Ciubotariu felt the need, as an ‘Amazonian’, to take to the internet at home, at the weekend, to defend the Amazon brand. He makes it clear on LinkedIn that these are his views and not the company’s and admits that he produced and published his response to the article without consulting Amazon or its PR team: “Someone internal actually emailed me this morning, and asked if I had contacted PR ahead of time, and if I had seen the Social Media guidelines (the answers were no, and yes).”

While the reaction to his post has been largely positive, it does raise important questions over social media policies and who should respond to negative PR directed at the brand .What would the consequences be if one your organisation’s senior employees did the same?

In his attempts to rebuke the claims of the New York Times article, Ciubotariu discusses the internal policies and procedures of the brand at length and he discloses what some may consider being confidential or commercially sensitive information on how Amazon operates as an organisation. Although well meaning, and intended to be positive about his employer, should his spontaneous response t be treated any differently to a disgruntled employee using social media to let off steam about their workplace? You have to ask yourself, is a social media policy there for everyone, or can management “do their own thing”?

The statement that followed by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, took a different approach. He brings it back to Amazon employees and invites them to contact him directly if they have experienced workplace bullying at Amazon or if there is anything about working practices that makes them unhappy, stating:

“The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”

While he acknowledges Ciubotariu’s response and encourages Amazon employees to read it, I do question how his response was received by the PR team and how it fits with their planned brand messaging and what the internal response to his post was.

This is another reminder to employers and HR professionals to examine social media policies and most importantly, provide training across the workforce, even at the most senior level. As an additional measure I would also recommend that businesses have whistle- blowing policies in place to create a culture where employees will raise issues internally as and when they arise, without fear of repercussions. If the first you are aware of your employee complaints is when reading the broadsheets, it’s definitely too late.

It’s an interesting topic and raises several issues for HR managers. I’d be interested to hear your comments.

You can contact Roisin with comments or queries at roisin.patton@squareonelaw.com

You can find out more about Roisin and the rest of the Square One Law employment team here.

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