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

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Mar 11, 2011

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 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 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.

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