When Private Beliefs Intrude on Work Life

I will try to set this up as clearly as I can.

You are a high profile organisation offering a B to C product that reaches easily 50% of the local population of a city (over 2 million people). Your product relies on trust, and also in the marketing effort there are a lot of co-promotions and partnerships that occur with a lot of different people.

Because of your size and reach, many organisations want to work with to promote their products to your customer base.

Your VP of Marketing is a member of a fundamentalist church, that is strongly against homosexuality. This VP joins a civil society group and comes out strongly in the media against homosexuality. Media reports the person’s position (within your organisation) extensively.

Are you justified in taking action against her / domoting her / even asking her to leave?

Note, for the purposes of discussion, this is not the US - but you can assume the employment law is similiar to an “at will” state.

Also for the purposes of discussion, I am not so interested in the legal position 0- wanting to explore the moral / public perception issues instead (i.e the PR image)

My own opinion? I would not fire the person immediately, but I would remove them from any direct decision making responsibility, and later on down the road quietly dismiss them or move them to a totally non marketing role if possible.

I will post my reasoning later after a few responses…

Only if their association can be shown to be negatively impacting your public image and hence profits, otherwise their private affairs are their own, IMO.

If the person is publicly identifying with the company, the perception could easily be that the corporation shares her feelings. I’d can her. I can’t imagine she’d treat employees fairly if she was aware of their sexual orientation, either.

Change the description to this:

Your VP of Marketing is a member of a liberal church, that is strongly for gay rights and marriage. This VP joins a civil society group and comes out strongly in the media for gay rights and marriage. Media reports the person’s position (within your organisation) extensively.

What about that, especially if the company is in a highly traditionalist region?

MrDibble has the right answer.

If one’s answers are not identical to both the OP and to FriarTed’s post, then one’s decision is based on a personal belief, not on ethics.

Does the company have a public position on the issue? If the manager’s public views are directly opposed to that of the company and she fails to make the distinction clear when promoting her views, then she is potentially harming the company and one could ethically take action against her. If the company has no official position and she fails to distinguish her views from that of the company, she should be required to make a point of publicly separating her views from that of the company, and if she fails or refuses, action is appropriate.

Simply holding controversial views should not be grounds for dismissal unless those views are detrimental to the company or are, themselves, unethical.

In a similar real-life case to the OP, we have Anita Bryant. However, her position was not that of marketing manager, but spokesperson. Her face was the face of oranges and juice. She had no job description other than to welcome customers and encourage more people to become customers, so any controversy she embraced was in direcrt conflict with her job. I doubt that there are a dozen marketing managers in the U.S. whose names and faces are known outside their companies. I suppose we could change the OP to use “president” or “CEO” instead of “marketing manager” for this discussion, but I would still hold that the only way in which action against them is justified is if they allowed their personal views to be conflated with the company.*

(In the real world, of course, they are toast, but few companies spend that much energy considering ethics.)

  • It would be interesting to see how many posters would actually boycott prodiucts from a company in which one public individual within the company held views to which they opposed.

And I’d can you, because I can’t imagine you’d treat employees fairly if they didn’t agree with your political views.

If the media were conflating the person’s personal beliefs and the company’s, then I would require them to make a statement emphasising that they were not representing the company on this matter, and I would have the company release a similar statement, stating that the personal beliefs of employees do not necessarily represent the company.

It’s a bit of a catch-22. If you fire the person, you are basically aligning yourself with the ‘other’ side in popular opinion, which might not be what you want either.

Most companies don’t want to be part of a debate on social morals. They just want sell stuff to whoever will buy it. Taking sides in a debate just limits their customer base.

So… What would I do? I’d make the person work so much overtime he doesn’t have time for any of the controversial stuff.

Why? Unless he’s highly visible and very prominent (in which case, not stirring up public controversies is pretty much in his job description) then his job shouldn’t be relevant to the story.

We recently had demonstrators in California trying to get a waitress fired from her job because she donated money to an organization opposing same sex marriage. Is that what you want? Is conformity to liberal orthodoxy now supposed to be a criterion for employment?

There’s a big difference between holding strong political views and publicly expressing them in a way that either brings negative press to your company or creates an atmosphere of intimidation or discrimination against your other employees.

For this reason, I see no problem with an employee speaking out in favour of SSM (as it discriminates against no one) whilst disciplining an employee who speaks out against homosexuality (as it discriminates against your gay employees). I would equally discipline a gay employee who spoke openly against a particular religion, on the basis that they don’t like that religion’s views on homosexuality.

Most firms have ethical policies which promise their employees a safe and inclusive environment that allows them to go about their business without fear of prejudice based on their sexuality, gender, religion etc. So my opinion would be “feel free to think what you want to in your own time, but don’t bring your prejudices into the work place”.

In the employer’s position, I would severely reprimand this person and ask them to issue a public apology, at the very least. Displaying open prejudice that creates an atmosphere of intimidation is not acceptable, whatever your private beliefs.

In other words, you believe it’s all right to fire employees when they express political in public views you don’t like, as long as you hang the “hate speech” tag on whatever they said.

Depends on what the views are, doesn’t it? “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is quite different from “homosexuals are evil and should burn in hell”.

Besides, if you read what I wrote, you’ll see that I was talking about expressing views which create an atmosphere of intimidation for other employees. I would as strongly oppose a gay person in the office saying ‘Catholics are bigots because the Pope hates homosexuals’, knowing that there are practising Catholics in the office.

You may think it, you don’t have to say it.

If this person is in marketing then the job title is relevant as they frequently represent the public face of a company.

I don’t agree with those demonstrators at all. If, however, this waitress was loudly proclaiming in the workplace ‘I think gay people are disgusting’, knowing that some of her customers and colleagues will be gay, then that’s another story.

Would it make a difference to your answer if your employee and a group of similarly minded people organised a hostile takeover the “civil society group”, and the “civil society group” in question was, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union?

And your employee later gave a press conference stating that protecting blacks, latinos, elderly, fine, but she was unsure if she and the ACLU would protect a lesbian employee from workplace discrimination?

… I’m sorry, I’ll sit out the rest of this one.

Shouldn’t it matter that the VP’s beliefs are themselves erroneous and pernicious? It was asked above: What if she belonged to a liberal church that publicly supported gay marriage in a region where that position is unpopular? Here, there might be an impact on sales, but you could not say that the VP was on the wrong side.

However, the VP in this instance has adopted a blameworthy position, to struggle to deny rights to others and promote inequality. I would think that the content of the disfavored beliefs should make a difference as to the propriety of punishing those beliefs. In other words, many of the posters above have been treating support or opposition to gay rights as a matter of taste and arguing that letting someone go for their stance is akin for firing someone for preferring strawberry ice cream over chocolate. This is no such thing, one’s support (or lack of it) for equality goes to one’s character, and bad character is permissible grounds for getting someone out of a leadership role in your organization.

From the OP:

**This creates a hostile work environment and targets a specific group…not just a general asshole in the workplace. I’d feel the same way if someone came out against women or any other group. The simple fact that she is publicly associated with both her hate group and her employer creates an intimidating environment. You don’t see the difference?

Unless your organization is religion based [Catholic Charities for example] or has a specific goal [stop the faggots from marrying/adopting/throw them all in the camps and bring the world to Jayyyzusssss amen] he she or it has absolutely NO reason to so blatantly self identify with your company.

Tell them to stop.

I think we’d start running into some serious problems if we start making correct political beliefs a criteria for employment. How much abuse do you think an employer should be able to dish out because youre political beliefs do not conincide with theirs. If someone’s against gay rights that doesn’t mean they should be fired.


My opinion is no, not until they bring it into the workplace. If a gay customer or coworker came in and the person refused to interact with them, they should be out the door. We did let one person go because of their fundamentalist religious beliefs (once she got married, she refused to be alone with male clients).

I am anti-religion, but I don’t tell religious coworkers they are idiiots. I just tell them to keep it to themselves, as I am not interested.

Well, there’s Chick-Fil-A, which has sponsored pro-life organizations and other politically active faith-based organizations.

Oberweis Dairy’s owner and president has run for office and campaigned against same-sex marriage.

The National Abortion Rights Action League has lists of businessesthat publicly support abortion rights.

So, is the question whether a business should be associated in any way with controversial causes, whether only a private business should be associated with controversial causes, or whether every employee in a business should be compelled to agree with the causes management has chosen to support, or whether employees should be disciplined for speaking out on causes that management does not support?

And, like Tabby Cat I think I’ll sit the rest of this out, at least until we figure out what the debate is.