Saturday, March 23, 2013

Debate on gay rights brings up workplace free speech "conflicts of interest"; Adria Richards firing also illustrates problem

A few years back, a manager of security at Allstate insurance was fired for writing and getting published, with his own personal resources, a column opposing gay marriage and apparently expressing his own religious views on homosexuality. 
The story by Ron Strom appears on Wind, June 24, 2005, link here
The story does illustrate an idea that I had circulated as early as 2000, that people with direct reports or who make decisions about others in the workplace (or underwriting decisions for insurance) should not publish their own views in public because that could imply discriminatory intent toward subordinates or customers (or help create “hostile workplace”).  That is to say, people who want to self-publish the way I do must remain “individual contributors” in the workplace (which I did for almost all my IT career).  Anything else would constitute “conflict of interest”. I actually got an email on this matter from someone at the Wall Street Journal in February 2002 (shortly after my own "career-ending" layoff).  
However, the landscape has changed because of social media (most of all Facebook and Twitter).  But it is possible to imagine an “employee blogging policy” that requires all self-published postings to be “whitelisted” (that is, restricted to “friends” in Facebook or “followers” in Twitter, a practice that many people follow for personal materials now, although this wasn’t possible or common in 2005). 
In 2007, the City of Oakland had ruled that employees could not post on a workplace bulletin board articles from “LifeSiteNews” that mentioned the terms “natural family” or “family values”.  “Natural family” has become a buzzword that some people associate with the notion that everyone (subjunctive) has a moral obligation to try to procreate by marrying and then having children if possible.   The link is here
These articles appear in a story opposing ENDA as harmful to the free market from Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, published on CNN as an “opposing viewpoint” op-ed on March 22, 2013, here.  I’ll say more about this on my LGBT blog today.   

Update: March 24, 2013

The saga of Adria Richards, who tweeted a photo of men who made apparently distasteful remarks ("big dongles") she heard at a developers' PyCon  conference, was fired by SendGrid.  One of the men was fired by PlayHaven.  But some attorneys say that employment law will work in her favor, as in this story in the San Jose Mercury News here.   Was Richards' tweet made in "public mode"? 

There is a similar report on Venture Beat, here

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