How to Handle Angry Ex-Employees: PR Tips

Last week we posted a news brief about the falling out between Dixie Botanicals and its former head of science, Tamar Wise, who took to her Facebook page to criticize her former employer as well as the CBD industry. Dixie countered with a blog post of its own. We reached out to both Dixie and Ms. Wise regarding the comments, and while both parties stood by their comments, they both declined to speak further.

Without knowing the full details of the breakup, Marijuana Business Daily reserves judgment on the matter. But the situation does present an opportunity to discuss the course of action companies should pursue when parting ways with a key employee.

Jamie Diaferia, a lawyer and former journalist, founded the public relations firm Infinite PR, which specializes in crisis management. He said companies should require top employees to sign a non-disparagement agreement during a layoff, or insert non-disparagement language into severance agreements. These agreements do not bar employees from speaking to investigators in the case of a wrongful termination suit. But if a company structures a long-term severance payment plan, it can withhold payment if the clause is broken.

Without resorting to threats, the best strategy is to structure it to work both ways: the company will not say anything bad about the employee if the employee agrees not to say anything bad about the company.

“Make it mutual,” Diaferia suggested.

This tactic doesn’t always work. So the strongest way to counter disparaging comments on social media is to first maintain a robust social media presence, a regularly updated blog or some other channel of communication with customers and fans.

“If the company has no history of social media or blogging, then you get this vacuum that is filled by the negative comments,” Diaferia said. “If you already have strong messaging, it’s easier to push [the comments] out.”

, How to Handle Angry Ex-Employees: PR TipsThe other benefit to having a strong social media presence is the ability to pivot the attention brought by negative press into a conversation that is beneficial to the company. If someone is saying something negative about the company, Diaferia said, the company can counter with a generic message, and then steer the readers to a blog or press release that discusses a marketable product or service.

“Take the conversation away from what they want to talk about and turn it to what you want to talk about – your product has high quality, your process is better than the competition,” Diaferia said. “Acknowledge the employee’s stance, but use the attention to clarify your position.”

Finally, a company should never counter a former employee’s negativity with disparaging comments of its own about the employee. Once the conversation becomes a he-said, she-said between the company and the employee, the company is doomed to be tarnished and lose the public relations battle.

“Negativity never plays well, so always take the high ground in these conversations,” Diaferia said. “Anybody has a right to voice their opinion. When things get too negative, the employee always wins.”

By these measures, Dixie responded well to issue a crafted statement acknowledging both the comments and Ms. Wise herself as a former employee, reiterating their corporate message through Dixie’s own social media presence and other methods, then closing the conversation.