It’s really easy to condemn someone who makes an offensive, and especially a racist comment. I don’t see adding one more dog to the pile will change much, so let’s take the current social media scandal as an opportunity to talk about corporate overreach.
While condemning Rosanne Barr’s tweet – and, let’s be fair, this particular episode shouldn’t exactly be surprising – many also demanded action from ABC, her employer – and the company delivered succinctly and firmly.
Of course this isn’t the first time that employees have been sacked for offensive comments – but a distinction really needs to be made between what happens on company property, in representation of the company, and what happens in the employee’s private life.
Which is a way of saying that if you are on the business premises (say, stadium), wearing the company’s uniform (football jersey) then clearly the business has some jurisdiction over what you do as their representative. But what if it’s your non-affiliated personal life?
Granted, Rosanne is rather connected to her eponymous show, but her twitter account is her own, and not ABC’s. So, how much policing should employers be allowed over their employees’ social media; and how much of that is their responsibility?
It is common practice now to immediately contact someone’s employer when they say something offensive or outrageous. Boycotts are commonly threatened over what employees say on their social media accounts. It’s pretty well established that “free speech doesn’t mean free of consequences” and that companies can hire – and fire – people based on their views. (That is different from the incongruity between firing employees because of their views, while at the same time claiming to be in favor of free speech).
Given the social, business and brand impact that can come from employees posting things that discredit the ethos of the company, it makes logical sense that companies will want to pre-empt this activity by scrutinising potential employees’ social media commentary. And to keep track of what they are saying – not just in public posts, but internal messages as well, since those are easily screen-capped, shared and made public with the same level of consequences.
In a society that finds it imperative to tell employers about people’s offensive comments we really need to have a conversation about how much control of our opinions we want to hand over to corporations and employers. Which doesn’t mean that the comments them selves might not be awful and horrid – but are employers the best to scrutinize, judge, and ultimately take action?
If businesses are going to be held accountable for what employees say in their personal lives, then the logical step is that employers hold people accountable for what they say in their personal lives. Is your boss checking in on your social media to make sure you don’t say anything that could get the company in trouble corporate overreach, or just reasonable policing of opinions and ideas that are just plain wrong?
If Google should fire employees for having the wrong opinions about gender, should Home Depot fire people for having the wrong opinions on abortion? If a defense company should fire an employee for flipping off the presidential motorcade, should a company fire an employee for owning a gun?
Or maybe having our jobs on the line when we express personal opinions is not such a good idea.