A marketing executive was fired recently for posting a picture of himself with the son of his African-American co-worker on Facebook and making racist comments.
Shortly before that, a soap opera actress made comments on Twitter that many found racist and offensive on the Emmy acceptance speech of Viola Davis, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for lead actress in drama.
People seem to increasingly fail to recognize that once they put comments that can be viewed as bigoted out in the public sphere, their employers have a right and a responsibility to deal with them quickly.
And those who take offense at employers’ meting out discipline tend to fall back on a couple of arguments that don’t hold up, legally or logically:
▪ “People have a First Amendment free speech right to say whatever they want.”
Except the First Amendment is about the government’s infringing on free speech, not about your private employer’s being offended and appalled by what you have written in a public setting. So, if you are one of those folks who waves First Amendment banners around to support your position on a whole host of positions, you might want to bone up on Constitutional Law.
That’s why, for example, if you write a post on Facebook on a public setting (not restricted to just your friends) where you are referring to your co-worker’s black son as “feral” and engaging and encouraging your friends to make jokes about you being a slave owner and the child being a slave, then it’s the equivalent of you going to the front of your employer’s building, wearing a company t-shirt and using a bullhorn to say the same thing.
▪ “A person shouldn’t be fired for personal opinions.”
If I wrote a column every two weeks where all I did was explain what being an “at will” employee means, legions of people still wouldn’t get it. Bosses, unless they are breaking an explicit employment contract or engaging in legally recognized discrimination, can pretty much fire employees for whatever reason they want, legally, without explanation. Harsh sounding but true.
Therefore, when an employee embarrasses a company, smears a brand or engages in a series of objectionable tweets as a person strongly affiliated with an organization, it crosses the line of personal opinion into words that affect a boss’ reputation.
So think before you post, or tweet, or shout from the rooftop of your favorite bar and grill. Your paycheck could depend on it.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.