Don’t Drink and Drive, How About Don’t Party, Photograph, and Post?
It’s New Year’s Eve. Time to eat, drink, and be merry. Time to wear the lampshade. Time to let the past go and look to future. And time to capture time in a picture. And that’s the problem. I have heard stories of weddings threatened and sometimes derailed by indiscreet bachelor or bachelorette party pictures. In those cases the old school photograph was developed and then someone saw the pictures and had to tell her girlfriend or buddy about what they saw. Now, however, people post and share their fun online. The number of stories about how a beauty queen was dethroned or a star’s career was halted from indiscreet pictures require little more than a nod here. But as the New York Times notes sometimes perfectly legal and normal behaviors can cause problems when captured in a picture and posted online. So where is the line between professional life and personal life?
In the specific case a woman in a student teacher program had attended a costume party. She posted a picture from the party to her MySpace page in which the woman:
with a pirate’s hat perched atop her head, sips from a large plastic cup whose contents cannot be seen. When posting the photo, she fatefully captioned her self-portrait “drunken pirate,” though whether she was serious can’t be determined by looking at the photo.
The school of course claims that the woman was not meeting her program’s requirements but admitted that the picture was found just before the dismissal. In addition, “The university backed the school authorities’ contentions that her posting was ‘unprofessional’ and might ‘promote under-age drinking.’ It also cited a passage in the teacher’s handbook that said staff members are ‘to be well-groomed and appropriately dressed.’” Right.
With the ability to document almost anything as not meeting some bureaucratic ideal of doing one’s job, employers will always be able to trump up a claim that the firing was based on poor performance. But to claim at the same time that the behavior promotes underage drinking and one must be well groomed at a costume party suggests grasping at straws. If the article is accurate about the arguments, no one should accept the idea that an adult has to hide being an adult from students. This situation is not a teacher telling students “I was so wasted on Saturday.” As for the grooming issue, one has to admire an attorney who can argue to the court that what one wears at a COSTUME PARTY somehow relates to grooming and professional standards.
Of course one should realize that how one behaves in social situations can affect professional life. But allowing employers to micromanage the off hours of employees must stop. As the article notes the problem is that most employment is at-will. As such it would seem that anything is fair game for dismissal. Yet that sort of formalism cannot be correct. At-will must be understood as related to employment situations. Otherwise, those who fear big government will miss the real threat to individual liberty which is big (or small) employer.
Until then, however, stop wearing those comfortable sweats or torn jeans at home. They are poor fashion, reflect poorly on everything which you are associated, and the work standards committee disapproves.