Blackface Reveals Worker’s Bad Behavior

The wearing of blackface makeup in photos from the 1980s has many asking for Gov. Ralph Northam’s and Attorney General Mark Herring’s resignations. The photos, considered racist and offensive raise many questions about conduct including- Whether bad behavior displayed outside one’s place of work warrants termination?

The country is taking the issue seriously. Fashion giant Gucci even recalled a sweater after a social media buzz accused the company of creating a blackface-inspired design. Gucci has apologized for unintentional racist implications.

Whether there will be long-term repercussions for Gucci or the men in question remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the blackface controversy represents a red flag for corporate America. What should companies do when an employee acts horribly outside the workplace and their actions go viral?

When white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the marcher’s photos went viral and once identified, employers were urged to fire them. Some did. But was it legal?

According to legal experts, the answer is not clear cut. Therefore, employers should consult with an attorney before rushing to sever a seemingly rotten cord. A few good sense steps that organizations should consider when faced with an employee’s awful behavior include:

  1. Check state laws for specific employee protections. Some states have strict laws that limit termination options.
  2. If your company is in an ‘at-will employment’ state, where employees and employers have the option to terminate the working relationship for any reason, make sure the ‘reason’ is not illegal under state or federal law.
  3. Government and state employers must use extra caution when firing employees as federal workers are protected from retaliation for exercising free speech under the First Amendment.
  4. Written employment policies should be drafted (with legal counsel) to clearly state that off-duty employees are held to the same standards of conduct and performance that apply on duty.

When employees behave badly, termination seems like a speedy fix. But firing without knowing the law is a sure-fire way to land in court. Get the practical advice you need to save your company from making a costly firing mistake with the on-demand webinar Terminating Employees Legally: What You Should (and Should Not) Do When Firing Workers

By V.L. Brunskill

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