Can What You Do On Your Own Time Get You Fired?

Most people in the United States think that what they say and do on their own time is their business, not their employer's. However, as a professor at a university in Florida recently discovered, your freedom of speech doesn't necessarily protect your job. If what you say or do adversely affects your employer's interests, you can get fired for it. Here's what you should know about the ability given to your employer to terminate your employment based on your private indiscretions.

Many employers have policies in place.

Many employers, particularly large ones, have language in the employee handbooks that dictate what sort of outside activity can get you fired. Often, there rules that require you to run any outside occupational activity by your human resource department in order to get it approved. In addition, virtually any non-occupational activity can also be regulated if it can somehow affect your company's reputation.

In the professor's situation, he'd failed to comply with the university's policy that required him to submit the required forms regarding his outside employment and "professional activity." The professional activity in question also created a firestorm of negative publicity for the university. The professor's credibility as a researcher and scholar came into question after he publicly accused the family members of a student killed in the Sandy Hook Massacre of being part of a government hoax. While he did all his research into it on his own time, his position at the university lent the air of authority to his work.

You have to comply with reasonable requests.

In the professor's situation, it is important to note that the issue hasn't been litigated yet. However, the professor's position isn't helped by the fact that he chose not to respond in a timely manner to his employer's request for the appropriate forms and a chance to resolve the conflict.

If you suddenly find yourself in a situation where something you've said or done outside of work is being brought into question, you need to take reasonable steps to support your position. Your employer's ability to terminate you depends on several factors:

  • the ethical or moral requirements of your position

  • your prominence in the community and company

  • the ability of your employer's clientele to learn about the event

  • any conflict of interest created between your outside activity and the employer

  • the impact of your private activity on your work

  • your company's written policies

  • your good (or bad) employment history

  • whether or not there is any connection at all between your work and your outside activity

An investigation into your activity isn't necessarily an automatic termination, but you should be smart about it and try to respond to allegations promptly, with the help of an attorney to state your case. That could very well prevent you from having to take the issue to court later. Contact an attorney, such as Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service Inc, for more information.