My views as expressed in yesterday’s post appear to put me, unusually, at considerable odds with most of my readers. Perhaps I should start banning people? Or maybe change my views? Instead, I’ll do what I do best: waffle some more.
Firstly, I get that an employer needs to ensure the private actions of an employee don’t damage the company’s reputation or its bottom line. That is sensible enough: if an employee is actively speaking out against their company or protesting a company’s actions then this ought to be grounds for disciplinary action. But I suspect this clause was inserted into contracts in the days when people had some common sense, and that ship sailed so long ago its prow is now prodding us in the back. Being a reasonable chap, I would expect the onus is on the employer to demonstrate exactly how the company’s reputation is being damaged, citing specifics. By that, I mean if the words “could” and “if” appear two or three times in the same sentence, then they’re probably engaged in woolly speculation. If a genuine customer or client has complained, then they are on firm ground; if they’re a Danish company making farm machinery and they’ve received a thousand angry emails from hippy academics in Brooklyn and Berkeley, they’re not.
Anyway, let’s suppose companies should be permitted to fire people for expressing political views outside of working hours. Where do you think this will end up? Well, we already know. The most unusual thing about this latest story was that it was a demented lefty being fired over an anti-Trump gesture, but this goes against the grain. A few years back a rodeo clown was fired for wearing an Obama mask, and since then “doxing” – the practice of identifying people online and publishing their real name, address, and employer’s details – has become popular. In the past year there have been several instances of Twitter mobs forming, encouraging people to bombard the employer of some hapless individual who upset progressives. If companies are going to cave in at the first sign an employee might upset someone over a political view, it’s the centre-right who are going to be in for a rough ride. I’ve written before about service providers such as web and email hosts being pressured by mobs into ditching paying customers who don’t toe the progressive line, and this is simply a variation on a theme. So this latest case sets a dangerous precedent, and the ones who will take full advantage are the headcases in Antifa and BLM, not sensible people. If a person can be fired for flipping off Trump, can someone be fired for showing up at Charlottesville? What about a pro-Trump rally? Or wearing a MAGA hat? It will be rather easy for HR to cite a couple of hundred angry tweets and emails from unemployed headcases in response to a carefully edited video clip, and fire the person concerned. HR departments take the easy route every single time – unless the law prevents them.
Now perhaps there’s an argument that because this woman worked for a government contractor, she might cost them business. Well, who doesn’t work indirectly for the government these days? With the size and scope of the state growing steadily each year, and accounting for an ever-larger slice of economic activity, an awful lot of people fall under its umbrella. Taking things over to my side of the Atlantic, should someone working for an IT firm which is occasionally contracted by an arm of the NHS refrain from making any political gestures towards the British government? Bear in mind that in today’s climate, voting Tory means you are hell-bent on destroying the NHS in the eyes of many. And do we really think UKIP – or even Brexit – voters should be hounded from their jobs, because this will surely happen once the Twitter mobs get wind that companies consider it their business what employees say and do in their spare time.
I get where my readers are coming from. Employers and employees are free-agents contracting with one another and are at liberty to impose any conditions they like. But in practice, it doesn’t work quite like that. As I said earlier, in a time when proper, professional managers ran things rather than power-skirts in HR, and managers didn’t think they owned their employees’ souls 24/7, this wouldn’t be a problem. Then again, employees cowering in silence through sheer terror of what their manager might say or do appears to be the norm these days: that’s exactly what I wrote about here. I can’t help wondering if employees stood up for themselves a bit more and grew some balls, HR wouldn’t feel so empowered they can fire someone over a rude gesture on Facebook. But here we are.
The issue of anonymity always comes up in these discussions. In hindsight it may have been more sensible to write this blog anonymously, but the stubborn side of me never saw why I should. I always thought I ought to be able to defend anything I say on here, and if I need to hide behind a pseudonym perhaps I shouldn’t be saying those things in the first place. Secondly, anonymity doesn’t always work. There have been enough instances of bloggers being outed as it’s extremely difficult to cover your tracks all the time, and if you got tangled up in a major controversy someone would likely find out who you really were in short order. Even though writing under my real name might be more risky, I at least don’t have to worry about suddenly being outed, and I know I can stand by anything I’ve said on here (more or less).
So, to summarise: this woman was an idiot, but if we’re heading into an era where employers can fire people for political gestures made in their spare time with such decisions made by HR and not operational management, sensible people on the centre-right are going to come off worst. And if an employee’s best defence is to shun social media and avoid any political subject at a time when everything is political, and cower in silence or anonymity in order to pay the bills, we might as well give up all delusions of individual liberty now.