It’s the tweet heard ‘round the gym.
“A McDonalds bag sits on an employees desk @lifetimefitness aka “the healthy way of life company.” Ah the irony.”
That quip, and the accompanying photo, has triggered weeks of back-and-forth with managers demanding that the tweet be deleted. Hill said he refused unless Life Time allowed him to write an article about the health risks of fast food for its widely distributed magazine.
Today, Hill said he got his response: You’re fired.
“I knew what I was getting into but I’m not going to turn down a fight, especially when it comes to health dialogue,” Hill said in an interview. “I didn’t do it trying to skirt around. I directed it at them hoping to engage in dialogue socially.”
Jason Thunstrom, a spokesman for Life Time Fitness, said that Hill’s termination was not related to the tweet, but for his work outside the company, which Life Time deemed to be a competing personal fitness business.
Hill has run his own business since he left a full-time sales job at Life Time in 2008, he said. He currently trains clients one-on-one and employs one other instructor. Hill said group fitness instructors do not sign non-compete agreements because they often work at multiple gyms simultaneously.
When asked why Hill was let go now for that business, Thunstrom said “I wouldn’t claim to have any knowledge about the timeline of said activity.” He declined to comment further.
The issue of social media in the workplace is bigger than just quarter pounders and quadriceps. Companies large and small have endured social media gaffes when employees go rogue over the Internet or leak damaging information.
“It’s becoming such a huge issue because your personal and professional lives are really being blurred,” said Bradley Shear, a Bethesda-based attorney. “Everything you’re doing online, whether it’s on behalf of your company or on your personal account, is being seen by everyone.”
Even the National Labor Relations Board has weighed in, as Capital Business reporter Catherine Ho wrote in October, after a rise in complaints from workers fired for their behavior on social media.
“It sounds like from what you’ve said he was trying to create a conversation that might have been better done in private than in public,” Shear said.
Some companies now require employees to agree to specific social media policies. Hill claims that managers cited insubordination as the reason for his termination, though he does not recall a social media clause in the gym’s employee handbook.
Thunstrom, the gym’s spokesman, said it does have a social media policy in place.
Founded in 1992, Chanhassen, Minn.-based Life Time Fitness operates 90 high-end centers across 20 states. The company counted 16,700 employees at the end of 2008 and revenue of $912.8 million in fiscal year 2010, according to its Web site.
Hill admits that his job wasn’t much to lose. Until today he was teaching classes in Rockville just one day a week.
“My motive was to say if you’re going to be promoting health [and] if there’s something unhealthy going on in your company, that’s going to be exposed,” Hill said. “That’s accountability. You brought it on yourself.”