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Employment Law Blog

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

“Off the Clock” Conduct Leads to Termination

Jay, a 53-year-old married man, enjoyed acting in a local theater group on his own time.  In fact, he recently landed a starring role as Daddy Warbucks in the theater group?s presentation of ?Annie.?  Jay found himself smitten by a 16-year-old girl who also acted in the play.  Jay sent her an email expressing his love for her.  He also met with the girl, turned the lights down, lit a candle, and shared non-alcoholic Bananas Foster with her while playing music from ?The Phantom of the Opera.?  There is no report of any inappropriate physical contact between the two, and no allegation of illegal conduct.  Can this ?off the clock? conduct result in Jay losing his job?

The answer from Marion County, Indiana is a resounding ?YES,? especially given that Jay Meisenhelder was a Deputy Prosecutor and Assistant Chief of the Sex Crimes Division in the county.

Once I got past my ?What WAS he THINKING?? reaction to this story, I reflected on the recent reports of termination following what many would consider ?private conduct.?  There exists a widely-held opinion that private conduct is none of the boss?s business (perhaps reinforced by the very visible acquittal of Bill Clinton after the Clinton/Lewinsky affair and related, admittedly false, Clinton testimony.)  However, employers do have and do take an interest in conduct that, though not directly related to job performance, can have some impact on the employer.  This is true even if that impact is only loss of character reputation of the employee.  This is also true even if the conduct broke no laws, but only reflected ?poor judgment.?  Employees should understand this.  Employers may be able to help prevent some of these embarrassing situations by addressing this issue when providing education and training.

Posted by Patrick Della Valle on 03/23 at 12:46 PM