The Line Between Work and Personal Life
A whispered word skims through the air only to be lost. A texted word can be captured and shared.
Recently, a colleague asked if they could have a consult regarding a situation at a healthcare facility. A group of colleagues was suspended because a personal group text was reported to Human Resources (HR). She wanted to know if HR had the scope to suspend people who may or may not have read the full thread of a group text and responded to the original text. Before I could answer, I wanted to know a bit more, specifically, what was the tone of the text, were there any identifiers to the workplace and did the views expressed in the text seep into the workplace?
The phone was a private phone paid for by the organization, but the text was personal without any identifiers as to their job or their workplace. It was a text which occurred off hours with the expectation that the text would remain private. The person who started the group text voiced her opinion regarding a political situation and those who answered voiced their opinions on the situation. The issue the organization had with the chat was how the topic devolved from politics into racism and bigotry. The chat lasted for approximately three days, and while some were active participants in the thread, others only chimed in a line or two regarding the political situation without voicing any form of bigotry or racism. All who responded were suspended for varying lengths of time , not specifically for what they stated, but because they had responded at all..
The organization was made aware of the text, meted out disciplinary actions, and justified their sanctions by stating that the views expressed by those in the text could negatively affect patient care, and they wanted to set a precedent for acceptable behavior for their employees. The punitive measure by the organization led me to ask how the employees behaved while on the job. Were patients lives put in jeopardy because of personal views? Were the opinions voiced in the chat voiced in the workplace or in front of patients? My friend responded that the views were not a potential threat to patient care, and that the employees had never voiced their personal beliefs in front of patients or in the workplace. All personal beliefs were voiced solely outside of work, and were left at the door when they came to work.
I contemplated the situation, taking into account the opinions voiced and how these opinions may affect an employee's ability to competently perform their duties. The text did not create a conflict of interest in the workplace, nor has it led to a substandard level of care, and there was an expectation of confidentiality in the text. Therefore, the reaction of the organization is unjust.
The organization's decision to set standards of behavior for their employees during their personal time infringes upon the rights of the employees. The employees were not representing the organization nor were they making their opinions public via a blog or an open forum on social media. They were texting friends. The organization did not have a morality clause in their contracts nor did they have any stipulations to their employment stating expectations for behavior outside of work. The employees, despite my personal thoughts regarding their behavior, are free to expect freedom from retribution at their workplace for thoughts and opinions voiced outside of the workplace.
Companies who do not have moral codes, stipulations for moral behavior or contracts holding their employees to standards of behavior, can not expect their employees to hold their organization’s moral or corporate beliefs. What employees do on their own time is up to them to decide. While it is hoped that good judgment is used during an employee’s off time, it is infringing upon the personal rights of the employee to regulate how they act when they are not on the clock. Furthermore, in this case, the more appropriate action would have been to call in each person involved, discuss concerns, set up training to examine prejudice and its effects on the community, and give a warning. On a corporate level, the administration should examine its corporate policies, set standards, define what is passable and what is non-negotiable in employee behavior, and enact policies reflecting the views of the organization. Mandatory attendance to briefings and training explaining the new policies must be held in a timely fashion, and all employees would then sign a form saying they are aware of the policies and possible sanctions. By setting a standard of behavior which all are made aware of and agree to as a stipulation to employment, the organization is creating a boundary employees can either agree to or seek other employment. The suggestion put forth is a rejoinder to an ever shrinking world filled with technology and to those who feel free to share posts with others our personal lives. Both employees and employers must be proactive in how they handle themselves both in and out of work because of the growth of social platforms. A thought, once shared, is captured and stored for all to see regardless of time and space.