Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha’ Gonna Do . . . When They Work for You?

Our friends at H.R. Hero were nice enough to select one of my articles for HR Line, their national e-zine. The e-zine is great . . . except that you can’t see it without a subscription. Don’t worry, I’m posting a copy of the original article below.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys: Whatcha’ Gonna’ Do When They Work for You?

Every business has an image. Corporate branding is no small thing. Corporations spend lots of money to market to the right audience and promote their products and services with the perfect image. So what happens when corporate image is overshadowed by a news making employee? Employers are faced with tough choices when the off-time antics of an employee results in bad publicity.

Anchorwoman Turns Anger Woman

In December, popular Philadelphia anchorwoman, Alycia Lane, was arrested in New York City and charged with assault. The charges stemmed from an incident where Lane is accused of hitting a female police officer and calling her a homophobic slur. Lane pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintains her innocence. But her employer, a CBS subsidiary, is not in the mood for apologies, it seems. The station terminated Lane’s six-figure contract on January 7, 2008.

This is not the first time Lane has been featured in the gossip columns for her off-the-air conduct. She even “got real” on Dr. Phil Show, after her first marriage ended to discuss the heartache of divorce. And she made news in August after e-mailing pictures of herself in a bikini to NFL Network anchorman Rich Eisen. The e-mail was intercepted by Eisen’s wife.

Exit Lane: When the Newscaster Becomes the News

Lane’s contract likely included a “morals clause.” These provisions are common employment contracts of TV and radio news personalities, sports figures, and other celebrity types. Even Babe Ruth’s contract contained a good-behavior clause. They are standard issue in endorsement contracts.

But famous faces aren’t the only ones bound by this type of provision. Senior-level executives and corporate officers can expect them as standard. And some provisions include powerful enforcement tools. Executives can lose their deferred stock options if they violate the terms of their agreement.

These provisions provide for discretionary termination of an employee whose behavior conflicts with the company’s corporate image. They vary widely in their definition of “bad behavior.” In some contracts, the clause is not triggered until a criminal conviction. In others, the employer has total discretion to determine what constitutes “bad” behavior and what they want to do about it.

Don’t Judge Me!

So do these provisions hold water in the legal arena? Almost always, the answer is “yes.” Certain states have laws that protect employees from termination or other adverse employment action for activities taken during non-working time.

New York and California have the broadest protections for employees. Employers cannot make decisions based on the employee’s “lifestyle,” which includes just about everything they do off the clock. Some states have “Smokers’ Rights” statutes, which prohibit employers from refusing to hire smokers.

But Delaware has no such laws. So long as your decisions aren’t based on protected status, such as race, religion, gender, and age, you can be the judge of what constitutes “bad behavior” severe enough to warrant termination of an employee. Your company’s image will likely dictate the limits of what is “acceptable” employee conduct.

It’s a pretty safe bet, though, that assaulting a law-enforcement officer probably won’t go over so well with corporate management.

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