George Carlin once joked about being fired from a casino in Las Vegas, saying:
“I got fired for saying sh*t, in a town where the big game is called ‘craps’. That’s some kind of a double standard isn’t it? I’m sure there was some Texan out in the casino saying ‘Aww sh*t, I crapped’ and they fly those guys in free! But they fired me.”
That was over 40 years ago and Carlin made his gaff in front of a live audience, but there was a time when an employee’s private behaviour was just that – private. What one did on one’s own time had little-to-no impact on one’s employment and generally, there were no employment consequences for telling off-colour jokes or behaving badly outside of work. A lot has changed since then but some things still remain the same. No employer wants to be embarrassed or have their reputation damaged by their employees.
With the proliferation of Smart Phones, omnipresent video surveillance and social media, private behaviour can now become very public, very quickly. What employees do when they’re off-duty can, and often does, affect them these days. True privacy no longer really exists and stories of people who’ve been fired for incautious Facebook posts or who’ve been recorded doing or saying outrageous or offensive things are legion.
Employers are becoming increasingly sensitive to how their employees’ off-duty behaviour impacts the company’s image and reputation. They’re also able to act upon it whether the behaviour in question was criminal or not. Those who post naked pictures or videos of themselves engaged in drunken revelry can face serious consequences.
Take the case of Donald Sterling, the former owner of the LA Clippers NBA team. After racist comments that he made in a recorded phone conversation went public he was banned from the NBA for life, fined $2.5 million US and forced to sell the team he had owned since 1981. In another case, a photo of a woman looting a Sears store during the 2001 Vancouver Stanley Cup Finals riots was spotted online by her employer and she was let go.
The most recently publicised example is the case of Shawn Simoes who shouted out “F*** her right in the p****!” behind a CityNews television reporter who was about to go live to air. ‘FHRITP’ is a recent trend of harassment that targets (mostly) female reporters. It is now a daily occurrence experienced by reporters in every State and Province in the USA and Canada, as well as, elsewhere in the world. Canadian police have stated “that the activity constitutes grounds for a charge and arrest.”
The CityNews reporter’s confrontation with Simoes was taped and went viral. He was identified as an assistant network management engineer making $106,000 a year and employed by Hydro One. Two days later he was fired for violating their Employee Code of Conduct. The fact that he was not at work at the time was irrelevant.
Although we may decry our increasingly Orwellian society where ‘Big Brother’ is more reality than fiction, this is now the world that we all live in. But what does all of this mean for employers and employees? How does one control what people do outside of work? Obviously, it’s impossible to do that but employers can lessen their risk of negative public exposure in several ways.
Having a clear and well-communicated Employee Code of Conduct policy that must be signed and which is part of every employee contract is a good start. At minimum it allows employers to point to the breech of a contractual agreement when these situations occur. While that provides some measure of legal justification for dismissals, it still amounts to closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.
Is there any way to be more proactive and avoid hiring employees who are prone to bad behaviour in the first place?
There’s no magic bullet that will solve this problem, but there are ways to screen applicants for undesirable behavioural traits and work-style competencies such as rule-following behaviours. There are a number of pre-screening tests available to assess people’s ‘counterproductive behaviour’ tendencies which are highly predictive and accurate. This means that those who are prone to behaving ‘appropriately’ will probably do so regardless of whether they’re on the job or not.
Tools like the Work Personality Index, Employee Dependability Profile, Counterproductive Behaviour Index, Employee Screening Questionnaire and Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal are just some of the products available to employers.
Creative Organizational Design carries 100’s of legal, valid and reliable personality, attitudinal and aptitude tests to help employers screen out problem applicants before they’re brought on board and become problems.
Ultimately, one must rely upon their employees to use common sense and good judgement in most situations and luckily, most can be relied upon to do just that. The Donald Sterling’s and Shawn Simoes’ of the world will always be with us but savvy employers can mitigate their risk of embarrassment by using reliable best-practices to avoid hiring such people in the first place.