Can You Fire An Employee For Being Racist?
As an employer, it is well within your rights to terminate employees for essentially exercising very poor judgement, exposing and embarrassing themselves and, by proxy, the company they work for.
Michael Henkel, Lisa Alexander, Robert Larkins and Amy Cooper. Do their names sound familiar? Chances are you may recognize these folks less by their names and more by the videos that were made of them doing and saying questionable things in their free time.
Michael Henkel spent this past weekend tearing downing “Black Lives Matters” signs, made by children and hung along the fence of a public park. It is probably also worth mentioning that even though he was fully aware he was being filmed, he still felt it appropriate to state “[black lives] don’t matter to me!” His employer, Philadelphia Family Courts, called his behavior “egregious and totally unacceptable” in their statement confirming his termination.
Lisa Alexander and Robert Larkins approached a man, James Juanillo, and accused him of vandalism after he stenciled “Black Lives Matter” on the front exterior wall of the house he has lived in for 18 years. Dissatisfied with their conversation with him, they called the police. Lisa is the CEO of La Face Cosmetics. Though she has not stepped down from her position at this point, her company’s website has been disabled and retailers have cancelled their orders. Her partner, Robert, was fired by financial giant Raymond James. They stated his behavior was “inconsistent with our [Raymond James] values”.
Last (for our blog article) but not least, we have Amy Cooper, the infamous “Central Park Karen”, who called the police on a man, Christian Cooper (no relation), who was bird watching in Central Park. The incident takes place after Christian asks Amy to put a leash on her dog, a requirement of most public parks. Amy then tells him that she is going to call the police and tell them that there is an African American man threatening her life. Shortly thereafter, Amy was terminated from her position with Franklin Templeton. Her former employer stated on social media that “Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately. We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton”.
In addition to the very public shamming of these individuals on social media and in the press, employers are justifiably taking a stand against this appalling behavior. Now, none of the events which led subsequent terminations took place at work, nor did any of the individuals identify their employers while being filmed. However, as an employer, it is well within your rights to terminate employees for essentially exercising very poor judgement, exposing and embarrassing themselves and, by proxy, the company they worked for.
As human beings we are the sum of many characteristics, experiences and behaviors and try as we might, it is nearly impossible to fully separate ourselves from our jobs – who we are and what we do go hand in hand. When employees behave badly in public, their actions call into question the integrity of their employer as well. In addition to the seemingly obvious question of a business’s moral compass, it stands to reason that public confidence would be lost entirely if these companies were to allow such offensive employees to continue their employment. Afterall, mass offense and alienation on the part of employees is never good for business.
Having your company or brand associated with negative press is a nightmare, especially when it comes at the hands of a rouge employees. In the age of social media, the backlash is felt almost immediately, and the results can be severe. It’s important that employers have a plan in place to deal with these situations should they arise. A proactive approach with solid anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, coupled with proper training is a must.
You’ll want to start with your handbook and a thorough new hire orientation that ensures you cover every policy in the handbook. Take special care to highlight the core values of your organization, these are the life blood of your company’s corporate culture, serving as a guide for all business-related decisions including disciplinary action and termination. It should be mentioned several times during the orientation that these policies may be applied to behavior occurring outside of the workplace if that behavior negatively impacts their productivity, the productivity of fellow employees or the organization.
Keep in mind, employers have a responsibility to their employees and depending on the size of the company, a legal obligation, to ensure a safe workplace free from harassment and discrimination. You should always consider how the actions of one employee impact your workforce as a whole. And remember, the public has an interest in the types of organizations they do business with and a corporate culture that is tone deaf or remains silent to their employees’ bad behaviors is not only bad for business, it is bad for society as a whole.
Would you like to have your company’s policies reviewed? Maybe you need help with creating a more meaningful new employee orientation? Would you like to talk with an Human Resources Advisor about how to deal with toxic employees? Law 4 Small Business is here to help.