Serious impact of unacceptable public behavior violations

I’ve been involved in helping to develop the acceptable public behavior policies for several client organizations as a regular part of my ESG services to clients. I generally consider my activism in the topic to be a business strength. Until now, the net impact of these policies was fairly mundane: employees disciplined for social media posts, public dissociations, and one case of a membership cancellation in a social organization. But now suddenly two clients are considering whether they can afford to keep employees in their organizations after backlash related to the employee’s public behavior. In both cases where I was consulted, the employee’s right wing social media posts caught unwanted attention. It’s a sad situation and I admit that I felt unprepared to offer advice to these businesses with the stakes so high.

Since I can not cite the actual cases for obvious privacy reasons, I clipped this other unrelated social media post to illustrate the concept. For clarity, I have nothing to do with this surgeon’s firing and I have no knowledge of the employer’s policy but am simply using this case published in social media as an illustration of the issue. In both of the actual cases where I was consulted, the employee had no reason to believe that their public behavior would affect their employment. But in one case, a major business funder is insulted and demands that the employee be dismissed. In the other case, a politician with the power to fund the nonprofit was alarmed by the position.

While we prefer that organizations have clearly stated policies on unacceptable public behavior, there is no requirement for them to do so. When an outside influencer initiates a complaint, both the organization and the individual can be caught unaware. Most organizations can terminate employment or association at any time for any reason. Your right to free speech has no impact on dismissal from employment or association. What you believe to be a truthful and honest communication has no bearing in whether another considers it unacceptable public behavior.

The point of this post is simple: what you say and do in public can determine the fate of your employment or membership. It makes no difference whether you feel harmed by such retaliation.