HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

The Cost of Principle: What Charlie Sheen’s Firing Should Tell Us All

Termination-complete

By John A. Gallagher

Recently, we blogged on how employee’s Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. are being monitored by employers.

These blogs observe that our normal conscious sense of “political correctness” is often abandoned when we post or tweet responses to employment-based job stress. They surmise further that badmouthing the boss, even in our own private time, on our own private computers, can and often does lead to termination.

Now, Charlie Sheen has taken the concept of public venting about our employer to another level, indeed. But, at its core, his message is very simple: he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.

And now he doesn’t have to! But, is he better off? If asked, I guess he would say that he is – it’s a matter of principle, after all. To which I would say, try paying next month’s $50,000 child support payment with your principle!

The problem with quitting on account of principle

Why do I think that Charlie Sheen would say it was worth it because it’s a matter of principle? Because I have sat with hundreds of employees who want to quit their jobs on account of principle.

To these mere mortals, I often reply, “Try paying next month’s mortgage with your principle, or serving principle for dinner next Thanksgiving!” They usually get my point. You need principal to have principle, sometimes!

Some choose to quit anyway — for their own mental, psychological and emotional well-being. I understand that. Indeed, as I have blogged on in the past, quitting for those reasons reflects a conscious decision to preserve one’s sanity at potentially great financial cost.

These are reflective decisions, and well-grounded. But I don’t think that Charlie Sheen set out to be fired to preserve his mental, emotional, and psychological well-being. And I don’t think that, in the long run, his well-being will be served by the financial and long-term results of his actions.

Similarly, when those of us who don’t have “Adonis DNA,” or “Tiger Blood,” for those of us who aren’t “Rock Stars from Mars,” the fallout resulting from a misplaced Tweet or Facebook post, which is potentially immediate termination, or at the very least the start of a Cold War with the boss, can be devastating.

If you want to lose your job, maybe ruin your career, and be subjected to “jobless discrimination,” then by all means Tweet and post away while your temper is at a fever pitch. Recognize though, that if you are fired for your rant, you likely will not get unemployment benefits and principle does not cure hunger, keep you warm on a cold February day, or pay for that much needed vacation.

“Raging against the machine” isn’t a good strategy

Am I being over reactive, crying wolf, or seeing ghosts where none exist? No, and there is plenty of evidence of employees being fired for raging against the machine, i.e., their employer or their boss. In fact, two recent articles show that firing of employees who speak out publicly against the company or the boss are on the rise.

The first, called Facebook & and Your Job: 5 Ways to Get Fired, was written by Amy Levin-Epstein of CBS MoneyWatch.com. She gives great and insightful advice on how to protect yourself from a firing due to your social media activities.

The second, The Perils of Badmouthing Your Boss, was published by CNN.com. It discusses the Charlie Sheen episode and also provides some funny anecdotes (unless you were the one being terminated, I suppose!) about social media-based terminations.

It is very, very hard to get fired when you make as much money for the company as Charlie Sheen did. Think about all of the bad stuff he did over the past years that was highly publicized, but completely ignored by CBS. But, as soon as he criticized the Boss – gone!

The message: Keep it to yourself (or at least keep it verbal and out of the workplace). People are sensitive, people get jealous, people get angry — and your boss is a people!

Hang him or her out to dry in public, and you are punching your ticket out of town — no matter how much money you make for the company!

This was originally published on attorney John A. Gallagher’s Employment Law 101 blog.

John A. Gallagher, Esquire, is the president of the Gallagher Law Group, P.C., a Philadelphia-area law firm concentrating its practice almost exclusively on representing individuals with workplace issues. After 15 years of representing major corporations in employment litigation, John Gallagher opened his firm in 2006, and since that time has represented only employees. Contact him at jag@johnagallagher.com.
  • James

    All this tells me John, is the laws of this country need to be changed. It took Big Brother a little longer than 1984 to find us but now that he has there seems to be no stopping him. Everyone screams for individual rights and personal freedoms yet every day Big Business aka Big Brother, takes it away and the courts allow it to happen. Maybe if everyone would have a bit more “Principle” and stand up, we all wouldn’t get pushed to the curb.

    • John A. Gallagher

      An interesting perspective, James, and one I can surely understand. And, as an employee-rights advocate, I wish the laws were more protective of the rights of America’s workforce. Yet, until the laws change, principles of personal responsibility suggest we have to abide by them – and the rules of common sense as well. I am completely opposed to the loss of personal privacy, but until the laws catch up with the Internet (if they ever do), forewarned is forearmed.

    • Jenbullock

      While it may true that Big Business and Big Government may be pushing us dangerously close to an Orwellian society, it would be a mistake to think that individuals are not equally responsible. In many ways, we are the ones who have chosen to live our lives under a microscope. We allow ourselves to perpetually available and visible and then wonder why people know things about us that they shouldn’t.

  • Tim

    John this was on the point. I know that I wanted to do this to my past employer but I had good advice.

  • Kml

    Principle, yeah, I’ve heard that a lot around the office too.  I love the “principle for Thanksgiving” line, that is so true.  The fact is, we all have to learn to accept that things don’t always go our way, and sometimes, at work or at home, we only make it worse by “raging against the machine.”  I for one will be very careful about what I say on-line about my job!

  • Patbullock

    The fact that they turned a blind eye to the exact same actions for years proves it wasn’t unacceptable until he insulted the higherups.

  • John Karedes

    Great insight into human nature. Looks like managers and workers are just human beings like the rest of us! It is interesting that, after all that he did before without any punishment, Warner Brothers fired him as soon as he said something bad about the boss. We’ve been warned!