An office-park landlord in suburban Massachusetts fired a long-time employee after he told his boss he’d need to work a flexible schedule after his wife developed lung cancer. Haynes Management promptly told accountant Carl Sorabella that they no longer needed his services—but a few days after the supposed “layoff” from the 20-employee company, they’d posted his job.
Sounds fishy, right? Over the past month, the situation has attracted media attention, mostly negative. Notably, it appears Haynes could legally do this, because companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But in marketing and PR, perception is reality.
Online and Offline Reputation Risks
As a marketer who advises my clients about reputational issues, I checked to see what had happened to Haynes’ online reputation.
The biggest clue was item #2 on their first Google SERP: a 1-star rating on Yelp. There are now 140+ one-star ratings, all in the last month. They’re almost all about the cancer-firing, not the quality of Haynes office buildings and client service.
What does the company do in response? Stick their head in the sand:
In an e-mail, vice president of Haynes Management Mary Butler told WCVB “this is a private personnel matter and we are not going to comment publicly.”
The company obviously wasn’t following the standard “be open, be accessible” PR mantra.
On June 17, Haynes issued a statement to the local paper (note: no longer online at MilfordDailyNews.com, but currently available via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine), with a half-hearted “we care” comment:
In recognition of their [sic] unique circumstances and level of hardship created by his wife’s illness, Haynes Management is reaching out to our former employee to determine if there is a way we can be supportive to his family during this time. This decision is consistent with our values as a family owned business and our commitment to being a responsible member of our community.
Sorry, but the horse is out of the barn.
Financial Cost vs. Public Relations Cost
From a financial perspective, I can sympathize with Haynes’ owners. As a manager at a small business, I see our monthly insurance statements—it all adds up. Last year, we switched to a high-deductible plan (where we pay the premiums) after our rates were about to spike yet again.
But from a marketing and public relations perspective, Haynes totally hurt themselves. I bet the hit to their brand equity—as a landlord and property manager to small and medium-sized businesses—exceeds financial savings from shuttling Kathy Sorabella off their healthcare plan.
My Crisis P.R. Recommendations for Haynes Management
They’ve got a long road ahead. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback—I’m glad I’m not their account manager—but here’s what I recommend they do next:
- Stop saying “no comment.” It makes you look like the bad guy, even if you’re legally innocent.
- Hire a PR agency. Maybe you can buy, sell, and manage commercial real estate, but you clearly don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to public relations. You need to hire an expert.
- Ask Yelp and other online rating sites to conduct an editorial review. Clearly, most of the recent reviews are from non-clients about the Sorabella situation, and they shouldn’t be affecting the company’s rating as a property manager.
What’s your PR advice if Haynes Management were your client?
Image credit: ABC News