As some of you may remember, at the beginning of the year a few companies found themselves in hot water for “disrespecting Chinese sovereignty.” One of the companies that was in trouble was Marriott. In a Mandarin language questionnaire that they sent to customers, they listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries, which China views as disrespecting their sovereignty.
A Marriott spokesperson issued the following statement at the time regarding the situation:
“Marriott International respects Chinese sovereignty and its territorial integrity…We sincerely apologize for any actions that led to misunderstanding on the aforementioned stance.”
Marriott was severely punished, as the Chinese government blocked their website and mobile app for a week. I can’t even imagine how costly that was for them. But that wasn’t the end of the controversy. Just days later, Marriott’s Twitter account accidentally “liked” a post that congratulated Marriott for listing Tibet as a separate country.
— Friends of Tibet (@friendsoftibet) January 9, 2018
As you’d expect, the @friendsoftibet Twitter account supports the movement for Tibet’s independence, which China is staunchly opposed to, and which Marriott was in trouble over in the first place.
But this is where things take a turn for the unfortunate. The man who liked the Tweet was Roy Jones, a 49 year old working at Marriott’s customer engagement center in Omaha, Nebraska. He made $14 per hour, and said that the Tweet didn’t stand out from the hundreds of others he reviewed during his overnight shift, though in retrospect acknowledges that it should have.
Per Quartz, Jones ended up getting fired for liking this Tweet.
Jones told the Journal he wasn’t aware of any instructions on the “social graces” of dealing with China. He had noticed calls for boycotts on Twitter, but he didn’t fully understand what the flap was about.
“This job was all I had,” Jones also said. “I’m at the age now where I don’t have many opportunities.”
What is unusual, however, is Marriott’s harsh response. To address Jones’ errant “like,” a company would normally accept responsibility, Eric Goldman, co-director of the High-Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University in California told the Journal.
“If this were his first strike,” he said, “the employee effectively is a sacrifice to try to get Marriott back in the good graces of China.”
What an unfortunate situation. On one hand I think it’s incredibly unethical for Marriott to sacrifice an employee in this way, rather than having his back. I think it goes without saying that this was an honest mistake, and Marriott should take responsibility for their lack of training in this regard. Even if Marriott had briefed employees on this, big companies simply shouldn’t fire employees for a first strike violation.
At the same time, I can see where Marriott is coming from. I can’t imagine how much money it cost them to have their website and app blocked in China for a week, and unfortunately Jones was a “sacrifice” that they made to appease China and probably avoid a similar punishment again.
So I see both sides here, but ultimately I feel terrible for the guy who got fired. Firing him probably saved the company millions (if not tens of millions) of dollars, though shouldn’t a big company like Marriott have the back of their employees no matter what? People who work in social media for companies are so overburdened. Just look at the incompetent responses they give to so many people. So to be fired for liking a Tweet that praises your company is just sad…
Marriott’s core values page says the following:
“Take care of associates and they will take care of the customers.”
Were they really staying true to that here?
What do you make of this situation?