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When Should a Worker Be Fired for Out-of-Office Behavior?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on November 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Corporate policies on hiring and firing are an important part of any large business. But should a company have a policy about when workers will be fired for out-of-office behavior?

Of course if your client hires employees who are "at will," then legally firing them isn't a problem in most cases. Even if employees can only be fired for cause, some out-of-office behavior certainly applies as reasons for termination.

But given the very public issues that the voice of "Elmo," Kevin Clash, has dealt with and his resulting resignation from "Sesame Street," it might be worth considering a policy that makes it clear when personal behavior interferes with work.

Some cases are probably easier than others. Behavior like Lindsey Stone's seems like a good example of when out-of-office behavior could be cause for reprimand.

Stone uploaded a picture of herself giving the middle finger at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Not only was the picture disrespectful, it was taken while on a trip with her employer. But even if it hadn't been, the picture brought a lot of bad publicity to her boss and reflected poorly on the company.

If the incident hadn't happened when Stone was on a corporate outing, then it might have been more challenging to suspend her. The company is still investigating whether to fire her.

For those ambiguous cases, a clear policy about what kind of out-of-office behavior will be considered grounds for termination could make the process go more smoothly.

Even if your client is in the legal right, an employment lawsuit could drag on if an employee feels wronged.

The next time you go over employment contracts and employee handbook language, consider adding language about what kinds of personal behavior could impact an employee's job.

Be specific about what kinds of embarrassment for the company will be considered an issue. In a time when personal information is often made public through social media, it's good to specify when it crosses the line.

Having a clear policy may not change anything about how your client conducts business. But it will give employees an idea of when their out-of-office behavior could be a problem, which could cut down on post-termination disputes -- something we all could use less of.

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