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Wouldn’t Touch That With a 10-foot Pole

Posted by Sarah Williams on June 19, 2012 in Employee Relations, Recruiting/Hiring |
conflicts of interest

A couple weeks ago, I learned about the reporter in Houston who was fired from her employer after they learned she was a stripper during the weekly People Chat on Twitter.

Whenever I hear these kind of salacious, messy workplace stories, I feel total sympathy and empathy for the poor HR person who has to deal with this mess. Because there is liability no matter what you do. You can mitigate it — but you can rarely ever erase it, solve it or fix it.

I have to admit that I can definitely understand how the HR person in this case reached the decision to terminate the exotic dancing reporter. I think the decision’s ability to withstand legal scrutiny hinges on 3 things:

  • The job application. Most job applications have something on them that says “Are you currently employed? If so, where?” and job applications also have that fine writing at the bottom that says something like “This information is true … and if my employer ever finds out its a lie, they can fire me without warning and no questions asked.” So if the exotic dancing reporter said “No” on her application when she applied for the job with the newspaper, then she lied — and the termination is solid.
  • The policy on outside employment. Many companies have a policy requiring disclosure upon acceptance of additional employment. If your company doesn’t, it should. In these tough economic times, people have to hustle to stay afloat and get ahead. I think hustle is great and I have no problem with employees taking on a 2nd or 3rd job to earn money and/or accomplish their goals. However, the employer has the right to know that you’re doing this. So if the exotic dancing reporter didn’t tell the newspaper about her dancing job after she started working there and the newspaper had a policy on outside employment, then her failure to disclose would be in violation — and the termination is solid.
  • The policy on conflicts of interest. Many companies have policy on conflict of interest, too. Sometimes it’s part of the outside employment policy, but sometimes it is its own entity. A conflict of interest exists when interests in one area has the possibility to corrupt the motivation of an act in another area. Being an exotic dancer is not directly in conflict of interest with being a reporter … but being an exotic dancer with a blog and intentions to publish a book about it might be. And being an exotic dancer while reporting on stories about hoity-toity society people might be, too. The newspaper would be the one facing the consequences of the exotic dancing reporter suddenly leaving to start her book tour OR the upset society people threatening withdrawing support of their business if/when conflict arose. They would also face the consequences of other newspaper employees or people in the community actively or passively mistreating the exotic dancing reporter. As such, they had a right to know about it. So if there was a conflict of interests policy, then her failure to disclose was a violation — and the termination is solid.

For the record, I’m not saying the newspaper shouldn’t have hired this woman just because she was an exotic dancer. From the information that’s been given about her experience and education, it sounds like she was definitely qualified for the position. And she says her supervisors told her that she was doing a good job for the couple months she worked there … but her active work as an exotic dancer was something she should have disclosed.

Still, I am glad I’m not that newspaper’s HR person. Cuz this case is going to take a lot of time and resources and negative attention before it is all sorted out. I wouldn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Especially a pole with a stripper on it.

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4 Comments

  • chris says:

    yeah, when I see outrageous stories in the headlines I wonder the same thing; who’s the HR team left to clean this mess up?

    Great approach here.

    • Buzz Rooney says:

      Thanks!

      The only way to handle these kinds of messes is not to get in them in the first place. Everything after that is just spin to strengthen your defense, on both the employee and employer’s part.

  • Jamie says:

    The fact that Gloria Allred is representing her makes me even less likely to feel sympathy for her situation.

    The case they’re trying to make is shaky at best, for the reasons you expressed below. This statement pretty much says it all:

    She was soon told by an editor that she was fired for not disclosing her dancing experience on her job application, Tressler said.

    Non disclosure/lying on an application is grounds for termination, period. I just don’t feel that you can claim gender discrimination, when clearly you weren’t proud enough of your part time job to disclose it up front.

    Just my two cents :)

    • Buzz Rooney says:

      My only sympathy is for the HR person at the newspaper who will spend the next 6 months – 2 years dealing with this mess. Tressler and Allred are gonna be just fine, no matter the outcome.

      And I agree that her non-disclouse is tantamount to admission of conflict of interest. As a journalist, it would be an asset to write a blog about your experiences in a job and industry that many people are curious about. If not for this issue, I might’ve read her book! She could’ve used this to her advantage. Instead, she chose to hide it — then cry foul when that choice backfired. Not cool.

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