update: my coworker is a Twitter troll

The letter-writer from earlier this week who asked about how to handle her Twitter troll coworker already has an update! Here it is.

Thanks so much for publishing my letter, and for your helpful and sage advice. I did end up pointing the tweet to our PR Director. He took it very seriously and my company dealt with it well. Coworker has been given a formal warning (PR chose to send it to HR also) and he removed the tweet. Sadly, given his personality, crossing that hate-speech line again is only a matter of time… but PR will be doing the watching for that now, not me.

Our company has an incredibly positive culture – coworker is, truly, the only employee like this. We come from a variety of political opinions, religions, countries, ages, and backgrounds, and we all manage to be respectful and collaborative at work, and outside of it. The next time coworker displays awful judgement using a name tied to his professionally-linkable online presence, he will face more serious consequences; I’m happy with that resolution. I didn’t want him fired, I just wanted him to remove a slur that could do harm to our company both inside or outwardly, and not do it again.

{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Cake Name

    I have mixed feelings on this – people in their private lives have the right to post things that their company may disagree with and they shouldn’t be punished for it. Right now the prevailing culture is one thing, but in the future it could shift and I worry that precedent on things like this could backfire. If the company opposes gay marriage, for example, and an employee was posting on an account that was not associated with their work about how they thought gay marriage was great and people who opposed it were bigoted dicks – would the company then be in the right to discipline that person, possibly firing them for expressing views the company opposes?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I talked about this a great deal in the original post. The difference is that this wasn’t simply expressing political opinions; the guy was using hate speech and slurs. That’s a very different thing, and as a society we’ve chosen to treat those differently.

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      1. Katie F

        Yeah, I feel like the LW wouldn’t have written in if the tweet consisted of “I disagree with gay marriage,” fr instance, regardless of LW’s own personal feelings on the matter. But hate speech and slurs cross a line, and I simply can’t get on the side of the company not being able to step in and say, “If you are going to be our employee, please maintain a personal life standard of basic decency.”

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      2. Cake Name

        You’re still saying “your ideas (that you haven’t expressed at work) aren’t acceptable here”. Right now what they’re saying is something you disagree with; so it’s fine. In the future it’ll likely be something you agree with; and that won’t be fine. Hate speech is a pretty nebulous thing that’s constantly evolving (e.g., the evolution of “imbecile” -> “retard” -> “mentally disabled” as proper terms for people with mental disabilities), and can be heavily determined by political climate. Having it be acceptable for employers to police off the clock behavior is something that, frankly, worries me. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence, etc. I just hope OP doesn’t do anything in her private life that employers won’t approve of, since it’s acceptable for them to bring that into the workplace and punish them for it.

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        1. LawBee

          Keep in mind that “freedom of speech” is ONLY applicable to govermental restriction of speech. Corporations and private citizens can restrict speech all they want.

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          1. Jaguar

            It’s not only applicable, it’s just ambiguous. Freedom of speech is both a concept and an constitutionally protected right in many countries. You can believe in, have respect for, and tolerate free speech in North Korea and you can want to limit speech in a constitutional democracy that protects it. The chicken really didn’t come before the egg here: the first amendment was passed because people wanted the freedom to express beliefs that are unpopular. When I hear that “freedom of speech only refers to the government,” that sounds to me very opposite to the spirit and moral landscape in which free speech rights were originally instituted.

            It’s not just a government right. It’s something individual people have to grapple with as well. How permissive of speech do you want to be as a person? How much ought people be? These are important questions that get brushed aside really quickly with hard distinctions about where free speech begins and ends.

            As a disclaimer, I’m not talking about freedom from consequences of the choices people make nor am I agreeing with any hate speech. I believe the Twitter troll in question has consequences coming as a result of their actions. But I also believe, on the subject of hate speech, the compulsion to shut it down, while understandable, is wrong. Hate speech should be addressed in a free society. Far more dangerous is the hate speech people hear subversively (think Trump’s “second amendment people” comment) than hate speech which is addressed openly.

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            1. LawBee

              The distinction between freedom of speech as a constitutional right, and freedom of speech as a concept is rarely made – Cake Name didn’t make that distinction in her post.

              And telling an employee that hate speech on an account that is, again, EASILY linked to the company is in fact, addressing it openly. The company is saying that it doesn’t want to be associated with employee’s hate-mongering.

              As I stated below, employee can easily set up a new account that isn’t linked to his company in any way, and spread all the hate he wants.

              Look, in theory I agree with you – address the hate. I’m a lesbian, believe me I’ve had to do it. However, a company disassociating itself with someone who is using hate speech and slurs is not an infringement on free speech under ANY definition.

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              1. Cake Name

                >The distinction between freedom of speech as a constitutional right, and freedom of speech as a concept is rarely made – Cake Name didn’t make that distinction in her post.

                I also only used it once, to point out that I recognize that freedom of speech =/= freedom from consequence. In that case I was using it as a colloquial term for the general ability to say whatever you want.

                I guess if I had to sum up my feelings, I think people are focusing on two separate things; the hate speech, and the employer’s reaction to it. To me, and maybe this is just an advantage of not having to actively work with the dude and having a large degree of separation, the reaction of the employer is not good and that was what I wanted to point out. To a lot of other people, the dude using hate speech in a public forum isn’t good. The difference boils down to I’d rather have people able to express any opinion, regardless of how distasteful, than have an employer police my personal life. Especially when the employer didn’t notice it, and the OP noticed it because they were googling him.

                I recognize the reality is, if shit can be traced to you and it’s something that could be a liability, then you need to take steps to protect yourself and your professional life. The acceptance of how much control employers have over your life outside of work otherwise isn’t something I like. Especially when, depending on the employer, it can be minor things. For example, at my current place of work, if my employer was aware that I believe that the drinking age should be 18 or lower, and that tobacco sale age should, at the very least, remain at 18, that would have some decent negative consequences on my standing here (public health, we have a good chunk of people who fall into the “government has to control things because people won’t do what’s best for them”).

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                1. Susie Carmichael

                  I guess I don’t understand how the company’s reaction isn’t good? A company has a right and obligation to protect it’s image to it’s clients and possible customer base. If a person, who has tied their given name and their company to their social media profiles is behaving in a manner that compromises the company, how is their reaction in shutting that down bad? They don’t HAVE to keep him employed if they don’t want to. If he had a more anonymous social media account where his company wasn’t referenced or linked, and someone dug it up, I think that would be a different ballpark.

                2. Tracy

                  I don’t know why you’re continuing to compare mundane opinions on the drinking age to things using racial slurs. They are entirely different. It’s not acceptable and it’s only a liability for an employer. It makes me think you don’t take the situation very seriously.

              2. Jaguar

                It doesn’t sound like we disagree much, if at all. I agree the company has the right and even obligation to address this with the offending employee all the way up to firing them. My concern is that there are so many comments on here in both threads that make a very hard distinction that “free speech only refers to government protection.” That’s true if we’re talking about constitutional rights, but it’s not true if we’re talking about actual free speech. Free speech is a concept far before it is a government protection. Individual people need to have respect for it, which includes being willing to hear things they don’t want to and permit other people to hear things that may be hard for them to hear. My fear is that this understanding of free speech begins to evaporate when people make these “government only” distinctions. It feels to me like western liberalism has begun moving to a place where people are saying “we don’t need to hear hate any more.” That’s great as an ideal but I think it’s wrong to extend that to action. In any discussion like this, it’s easy to go to the most extreme example, so the picture of hate speech is probably something like neo-Nazis marching through the suburbs, but obviously the issue is more complicated than that. Intelligent, kind, reasonable people often have some hateful ideas, however mild. You can’t help them grow if they are afraid to express those ideas. I can’t grow if there’s no environment where I can say the stuff I don’t realize is awful. You can’t.

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                1. Mookie

                  That’s true if we’re talking about constitutional rights, but it’s not true if we’re talking about actual free speech. Free speech is a concept far before it is a government protection.

                  Again, that’s a lovely sentiment and would that it were so, but that’s ahistorical. The concept and the language describing freedom of expression originate specifically from opposition to government suppression (most often in parliament or in public settings) of speech deemed heretical, blasphemous, anarchic, inciting of violence, counter-cultural, and/or anti-government. This is well-documented. Nearly every nation limits and penalizes speech to some degree. This is separate and distinct from private companies and private spaces who decide they don’t want to host or listen to (or condone implicitly) what someone has to say.

                2. paul

                  Mookie; there was, and has been, a concept of free speech going back to at least Voltaire, who predates our constitution. It just hasn’t always enjoyed robust legal protection. The US didn’t invent the concept out of whole cloth.

                3. Mookie

                  The concept of not silencing one’s political enemies as the basis of a democracy or republic dates prior to the common era and can be found across multiple cultures and continents. It still has nothing to do with censoring abusive language in the village green.

                4. SystemsLady

                  Just because it’s more than that doesn’t mean it’s bad not to go all the way?

                  You can have a lovely academic chat about the freedom of speech Gerald has writing a daily abusive tweet to some random woman he met at a bar three months ago under his full name and Violette has tweeting about how great her employer’s competitor is.

                  In the real world, that’s bad behavior and you have to make some not so clear cut judgments to keep things fair. Otherwise it becomes a constant battle dancing around the “but free speech” and “I *technically* didn’t break any rules” lines.

                  Most people have common sense about this thing and know the difference between the type of person OP is describing and somebody with an unpopular political view, believe it or not!

                5. Sketchee

                  What it comes down to is that the employee has many options here, so his speech is free by his own choice. (1) He can speak anonymously or not have his account linked to his name. (2) He can work for another company with a different culture and expectation

                  That’s free speech in a nutshell. The employer has no obligation to give him a forum or job. It’s definitely okay to want to work for a more free culture and employer. This employer does not have to be that place for this employee.

            2. Mookie

              When I hear that “freedom of speech only refers to the government,” that sounds to me very opposite to the spirit and moral landscape in which free speech rights were originally instituted.

              No, that’s entirely contrary to the concept of “freedom of speech” in the US as well as the establishment and expansion of the 1st amendment (first for securing the right to publish anti-Federalist sentiment in newspapers and leaflets without government suppression, second for religion, third for more general political speech).

              You’re also incorrect about how the concept is applied in other modern-day democracies, some which have robust civil and criminal provisions against hate speech and speech deemed to be incitement.

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          2. Strazdas

            This is incorrect. The first ammendment is only applicable to governmental restriction. Freedom of speech (you know the human right United Nations has declared) is applicable to EVERYONE.

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        2. MillersSpring

          FWIW: “retard” has always been an insult. When I was growing up in the 70s, they might be called a “child/person with mental retardation” or “someone who is mentally retarded.” But never just “retard” or “the retards.”

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          1. Jen

            As the child of a mom with cerebral palsy, this distinction is very important. To “retard” literally means to hold back so in reality, people who use such speech are retarding society

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        3. LawBee

          Also, “hate speech” is being defined through court cases, and it’s pretty specific – speech intended to be incendiary and to incite hate/violence/etc. against specific groups.

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        4. Bend & Snap

          This is no different than getting fired for a DWI that happened off the clock, or other behavior that the company opposes/prohibits.

          Hate speech should be a deal breaker in any form.

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          1. Roscoe

            TBH I don’t think firing someone for a DWI off the clock is good either, unless their job involves driving.

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        5. Oryx

          First, freedom of speech only applies to the government. So in this instance and that of any private employer it has absolutely no bearing.

          Second, you having the right to say whatever you want doesn’t mean you (collective) get to say whatever you want and not deal with any consequences that may come from that. Words have meanings. Some words have very hateful meanings. People who use these words should be prepared to deal with whatever fallout may happen from their decision to use speech that is hurtful, demeaning, etc.

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          1. Cake Name

            >First, freedom of speech only applies to the government. So in this instance and that of any private employer it has absolutely no bearing.

            As a legal definition, yeah. As a colloquial way to describe and discuss how we should handle dissenting points of view, it applies everywhere. Jaguar up there explained it much better than I think I could.

            >Second, you having the right to say whatever you want doesn’t mean you (collective) get to say whatever you want and not deal with any consequences that may come from that.

            I agree. The question then comes up – are you ok with your employer disciplining you for what you say outside of work? Something said in frustration about a coworker? An unpopular political view? Regardless of what it is you said, they can, and people would celebrate it. Does that worry you? I think it should. The point I’m trying to make is that this type of over-reach on the part of employers into employees’ personal lives are viewed as good only when they’re punishing speech you disagree with. The problem is, every single opinion and type of speech has people who disagree with it.

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            1. hbc

              “Something said in frustration about a coworker?” Um, yes. Very much yes to discipline for that, if you don’t have the discretion to keep that to an environment where it doesn’t get back to the company.

              I mean, if you found your service rep’s web page, and she was all, “Ugh I had to deal with Cake again today, what a horrible person,” is that really not going to change how you deal with her and her company?

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            2. Bend & Snap

              There’s a pretty clear line between racial slurs and political views. I’m not sure why you’re going to the mat for people to be able to denigrate people based on race, without consequences.

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              1. Jaguar

                You really shouldn’t shame people for defending the wrong people. This is a constant problem for people that want to institute prison reform, for instance. “Why would you want to help criminals?”

                Cake is going to the mat because Cake believes it’s important to talk about.

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                1. Bend & Snap

                  Thank you for italicizing your point as you try to dictate how I post.

                  Cake can think it’s important all day long, just as I can think it’s important that hate speech not even be on the table as an activity exempt from consequences in the workplace.

                  It’s a discussion.

              2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

                Well, my concern when an employee uses a racial slur lies with my other employees and my clients/customers. I become concerned that this employee will be able to work well with those of a variety of races as coworkers or as customers. I wonder if maybe he will become the “locker room cancer” on an otherwise collaborative team. I wonder if he will use the same slur against customers of that race and turn those customers away, or even cause a PR disaster by representing our company as one that uses such language.

                I would not have these concerns about whatever political opinion expressed, though. “I am for/against gay marriage” is worlds apart from “fucking f****t degenerates”.

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              3. Anna

                Because it comes down to the adage of not liking what someone says but defending to the death their right to say it. It’s actually a principle of our nation. People who use racial or homophobic slurs are pretty disgusting, but I have to accept that in the country I live in and support and value, they have all right to say those things as much as I think they’re disgusting humans and wish that sort of speech didn’t exist. Cake isn’t going to the mat in support of hate speech, they’re going to the mat because despite how much anyone hates it, it is our actually protected right to say and think what we want.

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                1. Crabby PM

                  If I work for a synagogue and I find out that one of the janitors is a holocaust denier, he’s free to continue to be a holocaust denier, but he’s not going to work for me. I’m not telling him he can’t be a holocaust denier and I’m not going to prevent him from getting a job being a janitor anywhere else. I’m a private organization and I’m allowed to hire and retain who I like.

                  With my current employer, I am circumspect about how I present myself on social media. But I don’t stop talking about how dangerous I think Donald Trump is. This might mean that we lose business as a result, and they are within their rights to ask me to stop. I am within my rights to work elsewhere.

                  This works pretty well.

            3. my two cents

              It’s not an over-reach to ask an employee in a customer-facing role who’s job includes building lasting relationships with various clients to keep a pleasant public face.

              If dude decides that he doesn’t want to manage/edit/alter his behavior, he also has the option of working elsewhere.

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              1. C Average

                Yeah, I agree with this. In a lot of client- or consumer-facing jobs, or even jobs requiring a lot of internal interpersonal interaction (wow, that’s a lot of alliteration and consonance!), it’s more or less understood that the job requires some diplomacy and basic filtering of verbal content that might make people uncomfortable. And it’s understood that the signifiers you put out in the world–your easily discovered Twitter feed, the bumper stickers on the car you park in front of the office, the tattoo that peeks out at the edge of your sleeve–can potentially influence your clients’ opinion of you and by extension your company, and are therefore of interest to your company. If your signifiers are too far out of alignment with your company’s values, they may choose to part ways with you.

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            4. Oryx

              If you can easily be traced to your company, then yes, I’m okay with that. This is the age of social media and if you can be tied to your company in any way, you have to be aware of the impact of your words.

              Signed a person with a robust social media life that can be easily traced to my nationally known company because I’m one of the public faces of said company.

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            5. Cyrus

              > Regardless of what it is you said, they can, and people would celebrate it. Does that worry you? I think it should.

              No. Why would it? It’s not like this is anything new. (I mean, there’s kind of an argument to be made that employers should only be able to fire you for work-relevant stuff, but (a) that’s not American law, and (b) politeness is very often work-relevant.) This isn’t just an Internet thing or a modern political correctness thing.

              Fifty years ago, a salesman with a habit of getting drunk and picking fights with people in bars absolutely could be fired for it and probably would. (Depends on the details, but showing up at work with a black eye has never been fashionable.) Saying the N-word in casual conversation may have been acceptable in certain crowds, but even then black people were offended by it and nobody would have been surprised if they took their business elsewhere. The normal attitude towards homosexuality 50 years ago would be considered raging homophobia today, but even then, bringing up the topic or questioning associates about their orientation out of the blue in a business environment would have been considered deeply weird.

              A small number of civil and otherwise reasonable people believe that civil discourse is too stifled or too policed, but there’s just no evidence of it. It’s true that the Internet is a very big public place, and that the types of people you’re supposed to be polite to has broadened, but how to be polite hasn’t.

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              1. LBK

                Yeah, I don’t understand how not using racist slurs somehow stifles civil discourse or people’s ability to express themselves. If you’re so inclined to be racist, there are plenty of lovely dogwhistle terms that certain politicians and news networks will be happy to provide you.

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                1. Strazdas

                  because you are not seeing the forest for the trees. The point is not silencing racial slurs, the point is company silencing peoples expression done while not representing the company. In my personal opinion such actions should be illegal and companies that do this should be held to court.

            6. LBK

              Well, as a gay man, I can currently be legally fired in most states just for being alive. I’m much more worried about that than maybe being fired for what I say on Twitter. At least I can lock my Twitter up and control what I post on it or who can see it; I can’t shut off being gay in case my employer is a homophobe.

              I also just don’t really understand the comparisons between “you might publicly state a position your employer doesn’t like and get fired for it” and using slurs. Like, there’s no offensive, hateful version of saying “I believe people should have free healthcare” or “I believe women should have access to abortions” unless you’re tacking on “…and everyone who disagrees is a stupid piece of shit” on the end.

              There’s just no comparison between that and calling someone the f-word, n-word, etc. Those words do not have any non-hateful context. There’s no polite way to call someone one of those words, but there’s plenty of ways to politely express a disagreement about a political position. And if my company wants to fire me just for being pro-choice, well, I probably don’t want to work for them anyway.

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              1. Lora

                OK, now I am having visions of “Blazing Saddles” running through my head on a Friday afternoon, and it’s not helping my productivity one bit…

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          2. sunny-dee

            Actually, no, freedom of speech is a cultural value. The constitution protects us from *government* violations of free speech, but we need to respect that freedom and preserve ourselves in nongovernmental forms.

            It’s like decency or obscenity. There are (admittedly ambiguous) lines, and we need to make those lines as far out as possible. If you cross widely-accepted bounds of decency, then there should be social repercussions. But that should be the last resort for *obviously* inappropriate behavior. Even being offensive shouldn’t be enough to trigger it.

            Authoritarian governments don’t depend on the government itself to suppress free action. They let their population do it for them.

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            1. Oryx

              Okay, sure, yes, we need to respect and preserve it as a cultural value. But that only goes so far and I’m not going to respect and preserve someone’s decision to spew hate speech and get away scot free.

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        6. What's In A Name

          Do we know the rep posted the tweet out of work? I don’t’ remember from the original post her stating that it was during “off hours” specifically. The company was in his description at some point – I follow A LOT of people on Twitter because they work for companies I do business with and some people offer some good information related to their industry in addition to their personal tweets. Not to mention if you follow them on various social media their company IS visible to you at some point in the “following” process.

          Even as a consultant I get tagged with companies I do a lot of work with, even though I am self-employed, and people follow my personal account because of what I do for a living, not because of my witty brain and hilarious musings.

          The reality is that while there should be a line between “personal” and “work” there isn’t one. Took me about 8 years of working professionally to get that.

          And technically my ex-coworker wasn’t on the clock when he drove drunk and put his car through the front window of a downtown business when he wasn’t on company time and we didn’t hesitate to let him go before formal charges were even filed due to character issues.

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          1. Temperance

            Kind of OT, but I would like to let you know that I admire your company for taking a stand and firing that loser. Drunk driving is awful.

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        7. BRR

          “I just hope OP doesn’t do anything in her private life that employers won’t approve of, since it’s acceptable for them to bring that into the workplace and punish them for it.”

          I would say many if not most readers of this site are on the side of employers shouldn’t police off the clock behavior. It’s that there are some instances where it is reasonable for a company to be concerned. In this case, there was an employee in a client-facing position who had very hateful statements come up as the first result when you search his name.

          This isn’t an example of a company policing every action of every employee or even hinting that it is moving in that direction. It’s one thing when you have to dig to find something but it’s another when this type of thing is very prominent.

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          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yes. I just don’t think that “it’s a slippery slope from this to much deeper levels of employer involvement in your off-hours life” applies here. We’re capable of dealing with nuance and “if you allow X, eventually it will lead to Z” just doesn’t always hold true.

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            1. Turtle Candle

              Yesss.

              The slippery slope argument has its place, but we all know that there’s a sliding scale for most workplace offenses. If someone is constantly shouting at their employees and gets fired, most of us would not go “but what if someone just has an off day and is a little snappish one time? will they get fired?” If someone knocks a coworker down on purpose and gets fired, most of us would not go “but what if someone accidentally bumps into a coworker in the halls? will they get fired?”

              The places where this tends to come up in my experience is where the question is offense to a group–you see it where “we don’t want employees publicly posting slurs even on their own time” turns into “but what if they fire you for a minor political disagreement???”, and also where “we don’t want people groping our female employees” turns into “but what if someone just misunderstands flirting???” I’m not sure why that is, but it’s interesting.

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              1. Kelly L.

                I think the main reason is that a particular movement, which was initially mostly focused on seduction techniques, has morphed into a political movement with strong white supremacist views over the last 10 years or so, and members of this movement tend to suddenly pop up in discussions on certain topics. (I think some might have Google alerts for particular types of discussions.) So “people who flirt in creepy ways” and “people who want to use slurs” have a lot of overlap at the moment. Now, I don’t know all the reasons for that, but it’s a thing.

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            2. LBK

              Yes – I hate the idea that allowing one thing means you’re opening the floodgates to allowing everything. That’s just not how decision-making works. Humans are capable of understanding or at least discussing nuance. This isn’t a legal matter where setting precedence carries permanent (or at least inflexible) implications for similar situations in the future.

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        8. Tyrannosaurus Regina

          If I remember correctly, Troll Guy also had the company name in his publicly visible profile. And again, hate speech and slurs are way different from “just opinions.” I take your point about worrying about employers prying too much into employees’ private lives and trying to manage their social media use, but in this case I think it’s pretty appropriate—especially since Troll Guy chose to identify himself, publicly, with the company.

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        9. Marillenbaum

          Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from judgment. Hate speech and slurs are things we have decided are unacceptable, and frankly, I don’t think people who engage in them are deserving of the benefit of the doubt. The company has the right to decide that this makes them look bad and take action accordingly.

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        10. Annonymouse

          The only reason OP brought it to the attention of their bosses is because this hate speech is able to be connected to their company.

          Granted if this was the dudes private account with no mention or connection to the company I would be entirely on your side – that it is a massive overreach.

          However as a society we have decided that hate speech is not ok (in some if not most places it’s illegal) and it’s something most people don’t want to be connected with.

          The company has a duty to its other employees, stakeholders and clients to provide a safe and discrimination free environment.

          Let me be clear: if this was opinion rather than hate speech (“I don’t believe in gay marriage/abortions/equal rights etc”) I’d think it a major overstep.

          If the hate speech was on a private account I’d think it an overstep.

          However it is on something linked to the company and in my mind no different than going to a work conference, getting drunk and proclaiming hate speech loudly at the bar.

          Sure you’re technically on “your time” but you know what else? You’re also representing your company and publicly connecting them with hate speech. Does the companies duty apply here?

          I’d argue yes.

          Your right to free speech does not negate or overrule the companies duty

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      3. Cari

        If it’s the word I’m thinking it is, and the guy is a follower/ fan of Milo, that word doesn’t have the same meaning or usage really. For one, Milo is a very publicly gay man. He’s also conservative, so for a lot of more left/liberal types that aren’t gay themselves, he’s the wrong type of gay man i.e. his opinion on gay rights and issues (like what words are offensive) counts far less than their own opinions.

        None of that changes the fact the OP’s colleague was posting this stuff under his real name and linking it to the company. Definitely a no-no, and the dude should have known better. But yeah, the “hate speech” and “raging homophobe” accusations people were throwing around don’t really make sense here given the context.

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        1. Crabby PM

          I’m so tired of hearing “Well if this person was a fan of Milo then they COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE HOMOPHOBIC” when Milo encouraged plenty of homophobia. This man’s behavior is beyond reprehensible and the fact that y’all show up to defend him is beyond the pale.

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      4. Annonymouse

        The only reason OP brought it to the attention of their bosses is because this hate speech is able to be connected to their company.

        Granted if this was the dudes private account with no mention or connection to the company I would be entirely on your side – that it is a massive overreach.

        However as a society we have decided that hate speech is not ok (in some if not most places it’s illegal) and it’s something most people don’t want to be connected with.

        The company has a duty to its other employees, stakeholders and clients to provide a safe and discrimination free environment.

        Let me be clear: if this was opinion rather than hate speech (“I don’t believe in gay marriage/abortions/equal rights etc”) I’d think it a major overstep.

        If the hate speech was on a private account I’d think it an overstep.

        However it is on something linked to the company and in my mind no different than going to a work conference, getting drunk and proclaiming hate speech loudly at the bar.

        Sure you’re technically on “your time” but you know what else? You’re also representing your company and publicly connecting them with hate speech. Does the companies duty apply here?

        I’d argue yes.

        Your right to free speech does not negate or overrule the companies duty

        Reply
    2. hbc

      I can see why you’re worried about a slippery slope, but I don’t like the other side of that hill either–the one where a company has to put up with an employee being publicly awful. The end of that slippery slope is that I have to work side by side at 4:55 with a coworker who has been civil to me but posts upskirt photos on his personal website at 5:05 pm. (Because hey, that’s legal in a lot of places.)

      Employers can fire you for nearly anything in the US anyway, and I seriously doubt otherwise non-toxic workplaces are going to have people combing the interwebs to make sure you’ve never expressed a strong opinion that conflicts with 50.1% of your customer base.

      Also, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people protesting about their super secret private lives…that they’re actively broadcasting to everyone under their own name.

      Reply
      1. sunny-dee

        That guy isn’t protesting anything (yet). The OP looked him up on her own and reported him when she didn’t like his social media posts. I actually do have a problem with a coworker looking me up on social media, following me, and then complaining for “fat-shaming bro-fests.”

        He put it under his own name and most people I know who have that kind of twitter persona aren’t exactly shocked when they get a negative reaction, so I’m not trying to protect is bruised feelings. He’s fine, I’m sure.

        Reply
        1. LawBee

          it wasn’t just “fat-shaming bro-fests”. It was homophobic slurs. Don’t diminish what was being posted to make your point.

          Reply
        2. BRR

          It’s not about the OP not liking what this guy posted and not about his feelings. It was reported because an employee with a client-facing role and a fairly unique name was having hateful postings come up as the first thing when his name was searched. Just because it happened on social media people are lumping it into a general “companies shouldn’t police employee behavior off the clock.” But there are different categories of off the clock behavior.

          People like black and white rules because they feel decisions made by people can be wrong (and this definitely happens) but there are many situations that require a judgement call because a black and white rule doesn’t work.

          Reply
        3. Temperance

          Actually, I only see a difference in degree of awfulness between the two. Anyone who has a public twitter/facebook profile full of misogyny that’s linked to their corporate identity is fair game. I personally wouldn’t want to give money to a company hiring a man who hated me for being a less-hot-than-he-wants woman.

          Reply
      2. KG, Ph.D.

        On a similar-ish note, I think that the employer would be right in weighing whether keeping on a particular employee will open them up to discrimination-related liability. In the case at hand, if the LW lives in a state where sexuality and gender identity are protected classes, and the employee has the ability to affect an applicant’s ability to, say, get reimbursement for a medical procedure (not sure what field the LW is in, but stay with me), that would be cause for serious concern. If an employee is in a position to potentially exercise his or her personal biases with customers or coworkers in a way that is prohibited under federal or state law, the company has a duty to make sure that isn’t happening. If the company gets sued for discrimination and it comes out that an employee involved in the alleged discrimination was tweeting homophobic things from his/her public and easily identifiable personal account, AND that another employee was aware of it, that’s not going to go over well.

        It’s a slippery slope in *every* direction, not just one.

        Reply
    3. Stefanie

      I work in PR/communications for a government agency. I would be very concerned to learn that someone easily identifiable as a representative of my organization was publicly posting hate speech on social media. It’s not a matter of agreeing with the comments – it’s the perception that they might represent the organization, and here, an employee could expect a conversation with the head of the organization to correct the situation. It’s that serious. We have the following section in our organization’s social media policy to provide guidance on this.

      Be aware of your (org) association. If you identify yourself as (org) board member or staff, or have a public facing position for which your (org) association is known to the general public, ensure your profile and related content (even if it is of a personal and not an official nature) is consistent with how you wish to present yourself as an (org) professional, appropriate with the public trust associated with your position.
      Have no expectation of privacy. It’s social media, after all. Remember that posts in the social media world are or can easily be made available to the public at-large. Keep in mind that what you publish will be widely accessible for some time and, in some cases, indefinitely.

      Reply
    4. Susie Carmichael

      Also, I’m sure at this point employee has probably opened up a separate account with a psuedonym in order to continue to be hateful under an anonymous profile. Originally this person tied his given name, and his employer to his profiles and used hate speech. If a customer or client came across that information, imagine how that could go for the company at large. This isn’t okay.

      Having personal beliefs and views are a different ballpark than using hate speech or being harmful. You’re not free from consequence for saying what you want to say.

      Reply
      1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

        Right. I post many things that would be considered “hate speech” (not a term I believe in, personally), and I do so under a pseudonym. Guess OP’s coworker didn’t think of that.

        Reply
        1. OlympiasEpiriot

          Exactly. It is so easy to have user IDs that are effectively (unless they get hacked) anon that there is just no reason to not be able to separate it.

          Discretion, people!

          Reply
        2. Temperance

          Yep. I wouldn’t want my online persona linked back to my legal name. I’m just as feminist, outspoken, and liberal IRL, but I wouldn’t go to work and call someone Captain Mansplainer.

          Reply
          1. esra (also a Canadian)

            Yea, I have the same opinions at work, but the language is a lot less colourful than in my private life.

            Reply
    5. chickabiddy

      In that case, I don’t think someone should be fired for posting about her support of gay marriage. Calling others “bigoted dicks” (even if I happen to agree) is coming close to a line where a company may be justified in stepping in.

      Reply
      1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

        Yes, the “bigoted dicks” is what would concern me as management, because that’s the part that indicates the employee might not be able to work collaboratively with those who disagree with her.

        Reply
    6. Brogrammer

      A Twitter account with your real name attached that until recently also had your company name in your profile information isn’t exactly private. If OP had overheard the coworker using slurs in a private conversation while not at work, that would be a different story. But he put it out there for anyone and everyone to see.

      Reply
  2. LawBee

    The problem here was that it was easily traced back to the company – OP found his twitter account “first thing” on a simple google search. He is free to create a brand new account and fill it with as much hate-mongering as he wishes. The company also is free to tell its employees they can’t spread hate-talk on an account that is connected with them in any way.

    So for your hypo, as long as the account couldn’t be traced back to the company of bigoted dicks, then that company wouldn’t be in the right to discipline. (By any definition of the word “right”.)

    Reply
    1. sunny-dee

      She wasn’t googling the company, she was googling him.

      Also, you are characterizing it as “hate mongering” when what she originally wrote was “fat shaming bro-fest.” That’s the slippery slope, right there. Distasteful things suddenly become hate mongering that MUST BE SILENCED.

      I live in Dallas. There are blue ribbons and blue signs everywhere. If I had posted a “Blue Lives Matter” image after the Dallas shooting, I could very well be complained about, at work, by coworkers who are hardcore BLM supporters, and “blue lives matter” has been decried in numerous places on social media as hate speech. That is reality. Disagreement IS NOT enough of a reason to try to censor someone, especially when the easiest way to avoid that speech is to unfollow someone.

      Reply
      1. LawBee

        We’re never going to agree on this. I don’t think we’re even talking about the same thing. I’m disengaging.

        Reply
      2. Kelly L.

        Please take another look at the original post.

        One of his most recent tweets crossed a major line for me: he used a homophobic slur, specifically to taunt people for being “too sensitive” online.

        Reply
      3. Susie Carmichael

        The OP wrote in the first letter that he used a homophobic slur to describe someone. That is the post that was taken down. Also, she googled him by name and found that his account was originally directly tied to the company (“works at Valyrian Steel Mill”) and was easy to find on the first result of google – – which means if a prospective client or customer did that same for any reason (and I am the type of consumer who googles/researched everything) they too could come across this as easily and that is NOT a good look for a company and they have a right to protect their brand.

        Reply
      4. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

        I guess you must have missed the original post. Alison linked to it at the top of this post, I recommend reading that for context.

        Reply
      5. LBK

        a) There is a clear difference between disagreement and outright hate speech. The slippery slope argument is a fearmongering red herring that tries to elide obvious slurs that have no acceptable context with grey area words/phrases like Blue Lives Matter. We don’t need to casually allow people to call others f*gs without consequences in order to have a nuanced conversation about whether Blue Lives Matter is hate speech or not – the two are not mutually inclusive.

        If we can all agree that dirt-flavored ice cream is bad and unnecessary to produce, that doesn’t stop us from debating whether cookies & cream or mint chocolate chip is the best flavor. They aren’t all just blurred together into one category with no ability to discern one from the other by nature of being ice cream flavors.

        b) No one is being censored. You’re more than welcome to say Blue Lives Matter however much you want and as publicly as you want. A company firing you for it doesn’t stop you from saying it – might make you think twice about it, but in no way prevents you from doing so.

        (For the record though, mint chocolate chip is vastly superior to cookies & cream.)

        Reply
  3. Bend & Snap

    Like it or not, you’re representing your workplace as long as you can be identified as an employee.

    That’s the reality of social media.

    Reply
    1. Muriel Heslop

      Exactly. I am a teacher and I have zero social media with anything resembling my name or location. Too much room for a headache. Educators are some of the most over-policed on social media, but since we all know it we either keep it sanitized or don’t participate. I just assumed all employees everywhere acted with somewhat similar caution.

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        Yep. And I have a friend who (fortunately for her!) has a quite common last name, and participates on social media under a nickname rather than her real first name. If you know her as a friend, you can find her. If you know her professionally or just as a representative of her company? You’re not going to turn up those accounts.

        …and she’s not actually prone to saying anything a company would consider bothersome, but this way she simply doesn’t have to worry about it at all.

        Reply
      2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

        My profession is a lot less fraught with this particular worry, but I too thought that everyone acted with similar caution and that it was just common sense. I guess “common sense” isn’t so common.

        Reply
      3. Adam

        I remember being a little kid and being absolutely astounded when I found out teachers actually went out in public and didn’t have little cots that they slept on in their classrooms each night.

        I guess some adults never learned that lesson?

        Reply
      4. Dynamic Beige

        The teachers I know have zero social media as well… or they have their settings on Private (or whatever you do so you can’t be found). It was recommended to them by the board of education. One of them told me a story about how back in the day before social media took over, a teacher got into trouble when some students who didn’t like him used his social media to smear him. I think the teacher was fired. So the policy became don’t use social media unless you really, really, really have to (and if you do, lock it down).

        Reply
    2. CMT

      I think this is definitely true. Sure, arguments can be made about whether or not it’s morally or ethically okay, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is true these days. And if your goal is to not get fired, sometimes that means sucking it up and not posting hate speech under your own name on the internet.

      Reply
    3. Adam

      This. The tricky thing about social media is that we see whatever one person posts and we attribute it to the whole person, whereas nearly all of us modify our behaviors and personalities slightly depending on our current context. For example, my patterns of speech are different at the office from what they are when I’m hanging out with friends, notably in the number of curse words I casually use. Also, I’m fairly religious, but my coworkers don’t know that for a fact because I don’t discuss it at work.

      But when I post anything on social media, whether it be a reasoned political thought or a stupid cat meme, for those who don’t know me well that one post gets wrapped up in the entirety of my being because that’s what the viewer has to go on. That’s why my Facebook is generally pretty boring.

      Which isn’t to say that people who post objectively horrible stuff should get a free pass because social media is weird. I definitely don’t think free speech is free from consequences.

      Really it should hammer home the point that you should think before you post anything for the world to see because, fair or not, it’s going to stick and changing people’s perceptions are hard even if you just made a mistake.

      Reply
    4. Tequila Mockingbird

      Yes. THIS.

      I mentioned Justine Sacco in my comment on the original thread; see also Pax Dickinson.

      Reply
    5. Anna

      I think that is the most concise way to explain it. The guy removed the company name from his profile, but the OP was still able to easily find him.

      (And for those who missed it in the first post, the OP Googled him for actual legitimate business reasons; not just because they felt bored and wondered if the guy was a jerk.)

      Reply
    1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

      Wow, New York Life again? There was a similar case with them a few months ago where an employee was harassing someone on his public Twitter account with the New York Life name publicly listed, and he was fired too.

      Reply
  4. Dawn

    I think any company with two brain cells to rub together is going to tuck tail and run the hell away from *anything* that has the potential to explode into a PR fiasco, be it an employee’s Twitter account that’s easily trackable back to their real name and the company they work for or an employee being arrested and news of the arrest making the front page of the news. Those are both scenarios where an employee is engaging in behavior off the clock, but they are also both scenarios where the company would want to throw up their hands and go “Nope, nope, nope, not us, not how we run things, we’ve fired them with great prejudice, nope nope nope.”

    Look at it this way- if you had a friend who had a public Twitter account with their full name on it who was spewing hate speech but never brought up that hate speech/viewpoint to you, how would you feel about it? Would you be OK with it and continue being friends? What if all of your other friends found out about your friend with the Twitter account? Would you stand up for your Twitter account friend then, and defend them saying “Well guys they just say that stuff on Twitter, they never say it around me personally, I can’t control what they do when I’m not with them?” If you did that and your other friends got angry and stopped hanging out with you, would you be mad?

    Reply
    1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

      The difference is that I choose friends based on their personal qualities. Finding a friend’s Twitter account dedicated to insulting people of a certain race/religion/sexual orientation would lead me to change my views of that friend’s personal qualities, and would probably be cause to end the friendship.

      By contrast, I don’t choose employees based on their personal qualities. I choose employees based on their professional qualities. So finding such a Twitter account would only change my views of that employee insofar as that Twitter account affects their professional qualities.

      So the friend scenario isn’t analogous.

      I completely understand a company wanting to run far, far away from a PR disaster, of course.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        I dunno, I still consider being a kind, non-hateful person a professional quality. I don’t care how great you are at Excel if you’re an asshat – still don’t want you as my coworker.

        Reply
        1. AMT

          Right, I can’t imagine that someone who routinely, publicly uses sexuality-related slurs (on a Twitter feed that names their employer!) is a joy to work with. It’s a data point about their judgment, sensitivity toward LGBT people, and overall pleasantness to be around.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Right – if someone can really, truly, 100% keep their work personality and home personality separate and leave all their hateful garbage at the door when they enter the office, then fine. But I have yet to meet an actual human who can do that. They’re never as good at it as they think they are.

            Reply
            1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

              I agree, few people can do that, and if that’s the case, then they can be fired based on their *at-work* behavior.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Well, let’s personalize it. If you employed a nanny for your kids who routinely posted racist slurs on social media, would you be totally fine with continuing to employ her until/unless you saw clear evidence of her saying those things around your kids? What if you were a member of the group she was slurring?

                Reply
                1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

                  If she did not behave in a racist manner against me or my kids, and if she did not use such language (or curse/swear language period) around me or my kids, then I don’t see any issue. But that’s the bar for firing the nanny. If I googled the nanny before hiring her (which I would), and posts with racist slurs were the first hit for her name, I’d move on to the next candidate on my short list – because why take a chance? But if she’d already been hired and she was a good nanny, her social media behavior wouldn’t change that.

          2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

            Well, if he is unpleasant at work, then the employer can take action based on that at-work behavior. The OP already said in the original letter that they have.

            In this case, there was some probability he was representing the company as well so that is a separate issue.

            Reply
        2. Marillenbaum

          Bingo! Being able to engage respectfully with coworkers, vendors, and clients is a job requirement. I don’t care how good you are at other things–if you can’t do that, you can’t work here.

          Reply
          1. Strazdas

            But he is not engaging with coworkers, vendors or clients during his use of twitter feed in his off-work hours?

            Reply
        3. Temperance

          THIS. I work with people who are very religious and conservative … and they aren’t hate-mongering assholes, even though they privately do not support gay marriage (probably? IDK).

          Reply
          1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

            Right, I know lots of folks like this too. And they may even post online that they oppose gay marriage. Civil discourse, whether in opposition or in support of gay marriage, is worlds apart from slurring an entire group of people.

            Reply
    2. Cari

      “If you did that and your other friends got angry and stopped hanging out with you, would you be mad?”

      I’d have probably cut them off as soon as they started complaining to me about what my other friend was doing, and expecting me to do something about it. People who are controlling and manipulative are far, far worse in my book than channers.

      Reply
  5. F.

    The Society for Human Resource Management just addressed this in a newsletter I received this afternoon. In part, it reads,
    “At least 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes protecting employees from discrimination or retaliation based on an employee’s participation in off-duty activities,” Michaels noted. “State statutes vary in terms of the type of conduct protected, but include tobacco use, lawful use of consumable goods such as alcohol, online activities such as blogging or participation on Internet message boards, political activities, union membership, and legal recreational activities.”

    The fact that 29 states have found it necessary to protect employees’ rights when doing certain legal acts (no matter how distasteful or offensive another may find them) speaks to the slippery slope that definitely IS possible, especially given the current emotionally-charged climate.

    My personal opinion is that if you are openly representing your employer (i.e., in uniform, listing them by name on your blog, FB or other Internet forum, or by other obvious means), then they have the right to discipline accordingly. However, when an employee is acting as a private citizen, then they should have the right to speak their mind.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      There’s a difference between participating in an activity that serves a separate purpose but might be objectionable vs. using words that have no meaning other than to be hateful and offensive. There’s no other purpose for hate speech or no reason anyone uses it other than to be hateful. There’s plenty of other reasons someone might drink alcohol or join a union that have nothing to do with attacking or targeting others.

      Reply
      1. New Bee

        Yep, and the whole purpose of hate speech is to incite fear in the group. If someone says, “I’m going to kill you, [specific Black person],” that alone isn’t enough to make me fear for my safety. But if they said, “All Black people should die,” I and any other Black person should fear for our safety.

        Reply
  6. Anonymous for this

    I posted this comment yesterday on the original post, but I don’t think anyone saw it since it was late. Similar situation but with different nuances, I think:

    I’m the ED of a small organization. Another organization (we’ll call them Organization A) that we often work with has recently been in the community news because one of their vendors displayed a racially-charged item at their event. They are, obviously, not inviting that vendor back, and they are working on updating their policies to help mitigate situations like this in the future.

    The ED of Organization A called me a couple of days ago and brought to my attention that one of my employees tagged Organization A in a social media post where they ranted about how Organization A was handling the situation. The ED felt, since we work closely together, that their organization was attacked by a friend, and they were surprised and upset. I looked up the post on social media, and it basically just says “Organization A, this is ridiculous that this happened at your event. This should not be tolerated, and I hope something is done about this.” She then posted again a few days later after Organization A had posted an apology, saying “What a watered down apology!” and ranting a bit more about it.

    I’m on the fence about whether I should mention this to her or not. On the one hand, she has the right to express her opinion (which many in the community shared) and speak out about things she thinks is wrong, and I don’t want to become an employer that pays attention to what employees are posting in their private lives. And this wasn’t hate speech or anything, it was just her sort of harshly disagreeing with how they’re handling the situation. On the other hand, Organization A was hurt enough about it to call me and let me know it was happening, and it probably wasn’t very good judgement to post this publicly and tag them in it instead of just expressing concerns privately with the ED of that organization.

    She is definitely known in the community as a representative of our organization, and even if people didn’t know she works here, it is listed on her social media profile. So her post can connect clearly back to us. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Yeah, this isn’t good. Because she was at an event on behalf of your organization, or at least associated with it, I think the public chastising

      The issue isn’t whether she has the right to her opinion (because of course she’s entitled to have this opinion, I would too), but that doesn’t mean she has the “right” to express it however she wants without consequences. Since she’s clearly recognized as a rep for your organization, it was perceived that your organization was doing the chastisement. I would ask her to remove the post, and please keep that stuff out of the public eye in the future. Let her know that you were offended too (if that’s the case) but that Org A is taking care of it and you all need to let them handle it.

      I would tell the ED of Organization A that everyone was a bit taken aback by the inappropriate vendor (as I’m sure they were too), but that you’ll look into it – something very noncommittal but that preserves the relationship.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        Yeah…In that instance the employee is being perceived as representing your organization and in that case I think it’s okay to speak to the employee about not posting about it anymore.

        If ED from Org A know who the employee works for to the point they can call YOU to discuss it, then you are A-Okay in addressing it as an employment issue. The Org A ED probably did not call the bosses of any of the other people who commented on it. Employee thinks she is speaking with her Personal Voice, but it’s being perceived as her Employer Voice and that’s not cool.

        Reply
  7. 221 Baker St.

    Claiming one is offended or just labeling something as hate speech doesn’t help their argument when suppressing another person’s right to freedom of speech. I’d love to know what those posts were so I could form my own opinion because I sense something isn’t being told here. I had to look this person up to see what the fuss was about and I’m disappointed in your triggered outrage. I’ve been thin shamed when I couldn’t get three meals a day and no one said a word at my workplace during that time, so I have zero sympathy now for those who are “fat shamed”.

    I looked up the person he’s following and his tour “The Dangerous F****t Tour” is different. It’s named so in response to all the hatred he gets for using facts against Liberal extremists and various hate groups – especially with homophobes. He’s owning that homophobic slur as blacks are owning the ‘N’ word. The guy your coworker is following, Milo Yiannopoulos, does state that he IS a provocateur for his own reasons and admits he trolls. Do I agree with him on everything? No, but I’m not going to start making someone’s life miserable because I don’t like what they say no matter how much it angers me after first hearing/reading it. If the company you work for is really as diverse and tolerant as you claim it is then why your PR group didn’t investigate the context? Blacks are allowed to use racial slurs and hate speech all the time and they don’t get called into the HR/PR for it at my work. It sounds like there’s context missing or a selective enforcement issue concerning this slur and I have learned to pick my battles.

    Your complaint about being “offended” just set up a dangerous double standard against free speech in your company outside of company time *even if employees haven’t linked their social media account to their employer * .
    It seems as though being associated with the company is enough to have your speech limited now. Your coworker can also complain as well about speech he finds offensive or hateful against him and his beliefs that you write, so now it’s a new can of worms.

    I’ve put up with far worse abuse by the LGBT community as a heterosexual woman because I’m being neutral on subjects at work. I’m paid to work and not campaign my personal beliefs in a public setting and my job has required that I work with people I can’t stand. As an adult you should know this, or at least be considering it now. Since I wouldn’t get a rainbow tattoo or wear some stupid T-shirt I was called a racial slur and a homophobe by two lesbians at my job, but HR and PR didn’t lift a finger to reprimand them for fear of a lawsuit. Apparently their extreme liberal views weren’t so tolerant of someone who just wanted to go to work to do their frickin’ job and not get dragged into a debate on a daily basis. Honestly, who demands that someone get a tattoo of all things? I personally HATE tattoos for my own reasons and thought it was pathetic two adult women thought they could harass me into getting one – let alone one of their choosing.

    I have a thick skin and you need one in this world if you’re going to make it anywhere. It would be interesting to know why he posted what he did but since you didn’t make the effort to communicate you may never know. You don’t have to be confrontational but it looks like you jumped to a conclusion before getting all the facts.

    Reply

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