Your Professional Conduct Policy > Freedom of Speech

Kris Dunn Free Speech, Kris Dunn, Personal Conduct Policy

The biggest lie the devil ever told your employees is that Freedom of Speech protects them from being fired.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are things that protect employees from being fired – things like employment contracts, friends in high places within your company, proactive lawsuits they’ve filed that are the equivalent of poison pills for companies to take on, etc.

But Freedom of Speech? That doesn’t protect them one bit in the “employment at will” environment we live in within the United States. In all cases, the Professional Conduct Policy you have at your company overrides Freedom of Speech.  In general terms, your Professional Conduct Policy is written broadly to give people who have to make tough decisions the latitude to fire you. It goes something like this:

UW Medicine values professionalism among our faculty, staff, residents, fellows, and students in carrying out our mission of improving the health of the public. Professionalism includes demonstrating excellence, respect, integrity, compassion, altruism, and accountability in all endeavors. Diversity of ideas, perspectives and experiences is integral to our mission. All individuals in our UW Medicine community are responsible for creating a welcoming and respectful environment where every person is valued and honored.

It is the policy and expectation of UW Medicine that all members of our community will conduct themselves in a professional manner in interactions with patients, colleagues in the University community, and the public. Leaders in our community are expected to model, promote, and advocate for a strong and visible culture of professionalism.

I bolded the part that really matters.  What’s written in bold gives any company the right to fire someone that’s acting unprofessionally in a way that hurts (or potentially could hurt) how the organization is viewed by the internal/external world.

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Need some examples of people who can/will be fired with an organization’s Professional Conduct policy as the logic/backdrop?  Here are some real-world examples of those fired through the lens of this policy:

–White supremacists involved with Charlottesville and beyond,

–The guy at Google who wrote a manifesto on why women aren’t good at/drawn to technical careers,  

–The Dixie Chicks

Wait – one of those things is not like the others, right?  I included the Dixie Chicks, who infamously took a stand against US military action in the post-911 world, to point out that firing people who display unprofessional conduct is really market-based. The Dixie Chicks took their stand, America reacted, and radio stations stopped playing their records. It was an unpopular opinion, and they paid the price. Not through getting fired, but through reduced career prospects. But it’s the same type of reaction in the marketplace of ideas.

Sometimes, it’s easy to take a stand and fire someone for their views and actions. White supremacists are a pretty easy example of people who are going to get fired under an org’s Professional Conduct Policy. No one would argue with that – or few would.

But others are harder. In the case of the guy at Google who wrote a manifesto on why women aren’t good at/drawn to technical careers, Google made the decision to fire him, but it created a backlash within the company across many that felt he had the right to have that opinion – and many felt there was some truth to what he wrote. Below is some polling that was done across tech companies to see what tech employees thought about that firing. Check out the results:

As that graph shows, there’s pretty much a 50/50 split.

And that’s the rub with high profile firings via the Professional Conduct Policy.  Some are easy; some are hard.

Rome was, and is, the mob.  

It’s easy to fire people for bad conduct inside/outside of work when 999 of 1000 people agree with you.

It’s harder when the split is 525-475.

And yes, the backdrop to all of this is we have a POTUS that used to get paid for arbitrarily saying “you’re fired” on TV.

Good times.