Journal of Business Ethics 163 (3):379-400 (2020)
AbstractWhen an employee’s off-duty conduct generates mass social media outrage, managers commonly respond by firing the employee. This, I argue, can be a mistake. The thesis I defend is the following: the fact that a firing would occur in a mass social media outrage context brought about by the employee’s off-duty conduct generates a strong ethical reason weighing against the act. In particular, it contributes to the firing constituting an inappropriate act of blame. Scholars who caution against firing an employee for off-duty conduct have thus far focused primarily on due process related issues or legal concerns pertaining to free speech, lifestyle discrimination, and employment at-will. However, these concerns amount to only a partial, and contingent, diagnosis of what is at issue. I argue that even when due process considerations are met, firings in these contexts can be unjustified. Moreover, even if a business is not concerned with the unethical conduct per se, but is rather strictly concerned with PR, the argument I advance nevertheless provides one important ethical reason that counts against firings in mass social media outrage contexts. Given that managers are often under significant pressure to respond swiftly in cases where an employee is at the center of mass social media outrage, it is especially important that scholars begin to clarify the normative issues. This article builds on the burgeoning philosophical literature on the ethics of blame and provides a novel account of a distinctive ethical concern that arises with firings in mass social media outrage contexts.
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