Should an Employee Get Punished or Lose Their Job for This Video?

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Jul 8, 2010

Here’s the latest in the battle over whether you can control what your employees say about their company on social media – even if they don’t mention the company or their job directly.

A Best Buy employee who works for the company’s store in Independence, Missouri — a 25-year old by the name of Brian Maupin – “created an Internet sensation with a video of two animated characters — someone looking to buy the new iPhone 4 and a sales person — that descends into vulgarity as the buyer gives clueless reasons for wanting the latest Apple gadget,” according to a story in the Kansas City Star . The video has “ drawn more than 3.3 million views on YouTube … (and Maupin) also posted a satirical rebuttal that derided the HTC Evo 4G phone available on Sprint’s network.”

Best Buy management, as you might expect, was not amused.

The newspaper reported that “although “those short videos did not mention Best Buy … some earlier videos he made, and that had far smaller audiences, mentioned the store and made fun of customers. Last week, Maupin has said, he was suspended because of the videos (and I have posted the one that got Best Buy’s attention here).”

Of course, this gets into the growing debate over what employees can do on their own time on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, and it’s an issue that attorneys Paul Bressan and Jessie Reider got into here on TLNT . They made this point very clearly: it is the right of every employer to monitor what an employee does in the social media world.

“As companies allow their employees to use the various social networking vehicles to seek business opportunities” they wrote, “it becomes increasingly important for these companies to maintain proper control of this usage. In short: it is your business.”

Early reports were that Brian Maupin had been fired from his job at Best Buy, but the company told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that wasn’t the case. “Contrary to rumors, Brian has not been fired and is scheduled to return to his job at Best Buy this Friday,” Best Buy said.

In fact, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn told the newspaper that he congratulated Maupin for “pursuing his passions beyond Best Buy,” and that “diverse experiences, opinions, passions and beliefs” of its workers are “vital to our future growth.”

But he also added this caveat: “At the same time, we need to let our company’s values guide us in matters that directly involve Best Buy, our employees, customers and shareholders. The videos in question did not illustrate ‘humility, respect and integrity,’ and that’s unacceptable to me, our customers and our employees. We are a values-based organization and I’m relentless on issues or situations that contradict our values.”

Maupin’s videos clearly didn’t square with Best Buy’s stated values, but do they really contradict the company’s values?

The 25-year old told the Kansas City Star that Best Buy’s statement was “a 180 from what they were saying (last week), but I guess they either made peace with the videos I left up or decided the others weren’t so bad.” In any event, Maupin told the newspaper that he didn’t plan to go to work on Friday and that he’s planning a leave of absence “so I may survey my current career plans.”

“I’m not sure if it would be comfortable returning to Best Buy considering the circumstances,” Maupin said in an e-mail to Kansas City newspaper, “but I will definitely consider all options.”

I suspect that this is not the last we have heard of Best Buy and Brian Maupin. You should consider it just the latest battle in what seems to be a long war over workers, their employers, and the social media that is such a big part of our lives in the 21st Century.