I was reading an article on-line about Mayor Menino, Shirley Kressel and the Boston Redevelopment Agency. Shirley Kressel, a landscape architect, is a long time voice against the BRA and has been lobbying for its demise, as have the candidates running against Menino in Boston's mayoral race. I have many opinions about the race, the candidates and the issues surrounding them, but I will not share them here. Instead, what I'd like to explore are the individual responsibilities we have to our employers when it comes to political activism, particularly those whose work is primarily in the public sector.
It's reasonable to say that if you owned a design firm that was working with or hoped to secure work with a particular public agency you would not hire a candidate with a history of opposing your client/prospect. It just doesn't make business sense. But what if you hired someone that had no obvious opinions about your clients/prospects, at least not initially, but then began publicly announcing, either through words or actions, that they held disdain for them? As an employer what are your options? Can you ask the employee to abstain from sharing their views on the client and/or prospect, even if it stifles their freedom of speech? Can you fire them if their activism becomes problematic in securing work from the client/prospect, without risking a wrongful termination lawsuit? And from the employee side, do you have an obligation to abstain from becoming involved in a political campaign/cause that has the potential to negatively affect your employer, even if it's something your believe strongly in?
I imagine these questions will become more prevalent with the increasing adoption of social media. Social media gives everybody a (louder) voice while giving more controls to employers wanting to keep tabs on what their employees are up to outside of the office (which in itself brings up another ethics question - should employers keep tabs on employees' personal lives just because the tools are available to do so?).
As information becomes easier to share and get it brings up new questions related to appropriate employer/employee relationships. If your firm starts thinking about them now so that there is a strategy (that's been run through legal) in place your job will be easier when (if) you run into the questions posed above. And if you've already been in any of the above situations and have feedback you'd like to share, I'd love to hear it.
Image credit: Sniderscion on Flickr