CEO of company that fired employee over BBQ sauce tweet: 'Calmer heads didn't prevail'
TORONTO -- The CEO of a company that fired an employee for complaining on Twitter about receiving a $6 bottle of barbecue sauce as a holiday gift admits that the response may have been an overreaction, but said it was completely legal.
Fastenal CEO Dan Florness told a Minnesota newspaper Tuesday that 27-year-old Hussien Mehaidli from Burnaby, B.C. was fired from his job with Fastenal Canada after tweeting his outrage at receiving a bottle of barbecue sauce and a wooden scraper for the holidays.
The tweet, sent from an anonymous Twitter account with zero followers, read: “What kind of multi billion dollar company gifts it's (sic) Canadian employees barbecue sauce as a holiday gift? Yet the USA employees stuff their face with an actual holiday gift box!” The tweet tagged the company’s American and Canadian handles.
“I am not going to deny it. We did terminate an employee,” Florness told the Star Tribune on Tuesday.
He said he learned of the story after a CTVNews.ca article was published last Friday and the company began receiving angry messages online.
“Calmer heads didn’t prevail over this,” Florness said. “Nobody reached out to me to say, ‘Really? I am getting fired over a tweet?’ It’s an incredibly unfortunate event.”
Regardless, Florness told the newspaper that the company’s reaction followed the law. And while he admitted that the firing may have been “an overreaction” and he may have responded differently, he said he was “not going to second guess” his staff’s decision.
Mehaidli has since hired a lawyer and plans on filing a wrongful dismissal claim. He said he wasn’t offered any severance after his termination, and believes he is entitled to that pay.
But he said it was nice to hear the CEO admit that the response may have been too harsh.
“Well, it’s always kind of good to hear someone admit they’re wrong, or somewhat wrong. It definitely could’ve been handled a different way,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Tuesday.
“I’d been with the company for six-and-a-half years and I’d never been written up once.”
HOW HE GOT FIRED
It all started in mid-December when Mehaidli received his annual Christmas gift. In previous years, he said Fastenal Canada employees received the same box of holiday goodies – candy, cookies, other junk food – as American employees.
But this year, he and his co-workers received a bottle of Edmonton-made “Get Sauced” barbecue sauce, which retails on Amazon for $5.99, and a wooden scraper branded with Fastenal’s logo.
On Dec. 18, Mehaidli sent out the angry tweet from his anonymous account. The next day his manager called him on the phone and told him the company had seen the tweet, and ordered him to take it down.
Besides being spotted by the company, the tweet didn’t attract any online attention, Mehaidli said.
“There was nothing, no one had seen it, no one liked it, no one commented. It was just a dead tweet floating around Twitter.”
And by the time he heard from his manager, Mehaidli had already deleted the post. He’d realized that he’d previously tweeted a photo of him buying tickets for a WWE event in Vancouver. The image didn’t show his face, but it showed his work computer and parts of his workplace in the background.
The day before New Year’s Eve, Mehaidli was called in for a meeting with his manager where he said he was fired on the spot.
An “exit interview” letter obtained by CTV News confirms that he was terminated for “violation of standards of conduct policy – acceptable conduct section.”
The company’s CEO told the Star Tribune that the company’s standards of conduct are given to every employee and posted online.
POTENTIAL LEGAL ACTION
Despite the CEO saying that Mehaidli’s termination followed the law, an employment lawyer told CTVNews.ca that the employee may be entitled to severance pay – something Mehaidli said he was not offered.
The way Mehaidli sees it, “the company has already admitted to wrongful dismissal. They said this could’ve been handled in a different way.”
He has obtained a lawyer and intends to move forward with a wrongful dismissal claim.
The case has since been shared widely online, attracting attention from U.S. media and plenty of reaction on social media. Mehaidli has been offered a few jobs since the story was published but said that none seemed like the right fit.
Asked if he has any regrets about sending the tweet, Mehaidli said: “I wouldn’t say it’s regret … I let my emotions get the best of me at first. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Florness told the Star Tribune that he made a video that was sent to Fastenal Canada’s general managers over the weekend. The video reportedly includes clarification that the barbecue sauce and wood scraper were collectively worth $27, and that American employees received a gift of the same value.
In an interview with CTV News Edmonton, the makers of the barbecue sauce, Get Sauced, said the response to the article was “a little shocking” and said some readers falsely accused them of being involved in the employee’s firing.
“Most everything has been positive defending the company. Except for a few people who didn’t read the article,” Gary Lalonde, owner of Get Sauced, told CTV News Edmonton on Saturday.
“And that’s what concerns us the most. We had nothing to do with what transpired with the gentleman. And if people would just take the time to read the article: we just sold the product.”
With files from The Associated Press and CTV News Edmonton