What Do You Do When an Employee Blasts a Racist, Insensitive Message?

By Eric B. Meyer

So, your public relations executive just tweeted a racist joke that went viral.

Well, it doesn’t end well for the PR exec. Just so we’re clear.

A PR Executive from IAC, which owns such online publications as The Daily Beast, Match.com, About.com, and several others, lost her job over the weekend for tweeting: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

The PR Executive, Justine Sacco, tweeted the offensive message just before boarding her flight to South Africa. Apparently, she didn’t fly on a plane with in-flight wifi.

Insensitive tweet costs her a job

Had she been connected to the Internet during her 12-hour flight from London to Cape Town, Ms. Sacco may have seen her insensitive message retweeted over 3,000 times and picked up by several media outlets around the world, according to the UK’s Daily Mail. She also missed the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet, which trended on Twitter during her flight.


After she landed landing, Sacco deleted the tweet and then her Twitter account altogether. (Although several spoof Twitter accounts like this one have since arisen). It was around that time that IAC fired Ms. Sacco.

In a statement released Saturday, IAC said:

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The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.”

How would you respond?

What should an employer do?

Unfortunately, there’s no bulletproof social media policy or training that will prevent all employees from acting stupid online. Still, IAC publicly acknowledged that Sacco should not be forever stained because of a momentary lapse in judgment:

We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core.”

It’s also worth noting that Sacco’s tweet came from a personal account, rather than IAC’s corporate account.

Still, few could argue with IAC’s decision to fire Sacco.

How would handle a similar situation involving an irresponsible employee tweet going viral from her personal account? Let me know in the comments below.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.


1 Comment on “What Do You Do When an Employee Blasts a Racist, Insensitive Message?

  1. Mr. Meyer, my short answer is…SOMETHING, quickly, genuinely, and appropriately! I experienced a similar situation when working for the government legislative branch and was completely shocked, hurt, and disappointed when management and HR chose, initially, to do nothing. Unlike this situation which has played out publicly, our incident started (recap) when a white team member sent out a blast email to our team including our manager about how the “good old U.S.A.” would be better off if it built a moat around the border with Mexico, filled it with water from Hurricane Katrina, and added alligators from Florida. During the week this happened there had been lots of discussion on the hill about immigration reform and how to handle people trying to come into the U.S. from Mexico by crossing the border illegally. I found the email very insensitive, in poor taste, and borderlineracist and several other team members felt the same way. Our manager never responded, so I did, explaining to my colleague in a response email that I did not agree with her idea or appreciate being included in her email. I also explained to my manager how hurtful the statement was, how it undermined our already weak team relations, and asked her if she was ok with my colleague sending the message to the team. (Note* I paid, professionally, for addressing the issue.) After posing a couple awkward questions to figure out why I, being non-Mexican/non-Latino, was offended, she said she “didn’t respond because she didn’t know what to do.” So because she did not know what to do she took the head in the sand approach. Needless to say, that was completely ineffective.

    My opinion, the best thing to do in these situations is to address the issue instantly, honestly, and in kind. If the message is internal it should be addressed internally, but if the message is blasted internationally via social media the organization’s response has to be equally as public. Just my thoughts…thanks for taking the time to ask this question and for taking the time to listen to my response.

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