You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Employment At Will

Posted in Guns, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 26, 2007

There’s an interesting thread over at the Volokh Conspiracy today on the subject of what kinds of things your employer can fire you for. The case at issue involves a UPS employee who was fired after notifying his supervisor that his personal handgun was stored in his car, which was parked in the company parking lot.

The Good: US companies aren’t constrained by byzantine laws about hiring and firing employees, and are thus more willing to hire people, knowing they aren’t stuck with them forever in case of problems.

The Bad: That means they can fire you if they don’t like your blog, even though you don’t blog or discuss your views at work

The Ugly: Joe Huffman was apparently let go from his job at a government-funded research facility based on his online support for gun rights. This is in spite of consistently positive performance reviews and seemingly no particular workplace conduct issues.

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4 Responses

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  1. Clint said, on February 26, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    The side-effect: further political polarization of America. Is that really what we need? Nope.

    I actually have started to think some laws (ugh, more?!?!) are needed.

    Phones are considered private (well, until Bush 2). They are protected by law. Technically, when you call someone, your words are being broadcast on a public phone line, going through [usually] public spaces. You have no expectation to the right to privacy.

    So Congress passed laws explicitly saying that phonecalls are private, even though your words are transmitted through [usually] public spaces.

    Somehow, this hasn’t applied to email, despite the fact that metaphorically the email servers are like the telephone polls.

    I’ve often had a notion that some sort of protection should exist that grants phone-level privacy rights to email and other private online communication (i.e. IM, myspace messages — whatever).

    Not that this would help in these specific cases above… I’m not really sure what should be done about that.

    I’m not a fan of fire at will for any reason in your personal life we disagree with. It seems to me to allow discrimination for a myriad of reasons.

    I mean, with the internet allowing everyone to share and collaborate online, the last thing we need is to buck the trend by making everyone so paranoid that they have to play their cards close to their chest. Imagine being totally private and divulging nothing because that’s the only way to survive. That’s chilling to think of…

  2. Stacy McMahon said, on February 26, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Clint: “I’m not a fan of fire at will for any reason in your personal life we disagree with. It seems to me to allow discrimination for a myriad of reasons.

    I completely agree. I can imagine an employer claiming their right to freedom of association is violated (much like the argument that the Boy Scouts have the right to fire gay scoutmasters) but I think your point is probably the dominant one today. There are just too many people out there who are willing to discriminate if they think they can.

    I think I would be in favor of a law saying that an employer has to prove that the personal belief/behavior/whatever is materially detrimental to the company’s goals. So for example, the case one of the VC commenters mentioned where a catholic school fired an unmarried teacher who got pregnant would be allowed on the grounds that they can’t have a bad example walking around the halls, but PNL firing Joe Huffman for his personal views would not be, because he never mentioned his employer and it wasn’t relevant to the personal views in question anyway.

  3. Clint said, on February 27, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Yes. That would be great. Unfortunately unions have got corrupt (by becoming part of the establishment?) and have waned in power and membership (programmer’s union? anyone?), otherwise their influence might have forced something like this to have already happen. Either that, or a SANE congress.

  4. Rich said, on August 28, 2007 at 2:36 am

    >>because he never mentioned his employer
    Wrong, he consistently linked PNL to his opinions. Look for yourself.


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