While it’s clear that misconduct at work—theft, insubordination, or discrimination toward a co-worker—is cause for termination, the prevalence of videos recording bad behavior outside of work is now leading to the same result. And it’s legal.
The reason? The government must protect free speech, but private employers are not under the same obligation, giving non-governmental organizations broad reach for lawful termination. Consequently, an employee working at a bank, tech company, or law firm cannot be arrested for saying or doing hateful or distasteful things, but that person canbe fired.
It plays out like this. Someone takes a video of another’s objectionable behavior and posts it on social media. Through re-posting, the individual saying or doing the distasteful act is identified. The person’s employer sees it. The offender is fired.
The media widely reported a recent incident of that exact scenario. The event occurred in New York when a white woman in Central Park called police after a Black man, who was bird-watching, asked the woman to leash her dog as required by the park’s rules. The woman untruthfully claimed the man was threatening her and her dog to the police. However, as she made the call, the man documented it on video as he stood calmly nearby. Later the woman was charged with filing a false police report and was subsequently fired by her employer after the incident went viral. Similar situations have also resulted in terminations.
Private employers in the United States can generally fire their workers under the employment-at-will doctrine as long as the reason for the termination is not due to race, religion, age, or disability. After all, employees’ actions reflect upon their employers whether those actions occur at the workplace or outside of it.
- How does the employment-at-will doctrine affect employees?
- Why does the First Amendment right to free speech not protect some workers from being fired?
- Why does employee conduct outside of the office reflect on employers?