Against Outside Work Restrictions

I oppose restrictions outside work. That is to say, I believe in the policy that a company should not fire or discipline an employee in response to something that the employee did in their personal life. Strictly speaking, everything done outside of the office and outside of official work hours should not be taken into consideration by the company for any reason after the employee’s on-boarding.

The alternative to this, often unashamedly pushed, I will call the emissary model. I will recount a refrain from some of the schools I attended. “Even off the campus, you are representative (an emissary) of the school. Even outside school grounds, is your duty to behave responsibly to be of good character in order to cast the school in the best light.” This is even more emphatic in the case of schools with uniforms; “when off the campus, you wear the school insignia, whenever and wherever you adorn the uniform. If you misbehave, people will think negatively of the school.”

Although perhaps more understandable in the case of school uniforms, the emissary model always rubbed me the wrong way. Primary school already exercised, at age of attendance, non-consentual dominion over 8 hours of my life 5 days a week, and it doesn’t stop there. I also each day had to churn out another 3+ hours of homework. Certainly, I thought, I will do my best to behave well so as to not embarrass myself outside of school, I thought. But I will do so of my own resolve, not because another institution believes they own me. It should be enough to not want to embarrass myself, don’t tell me about the school.

Most organizations (i.e., workplaces) follow a soft version of the emissary model: “we won’t keep tabs on you outside of the work/school/etc., because that’s not our job, but we have standards and expectations, and if it comes on our radar that you did something bad, we will expel/fire/let you go” for PR reasons. This is a power vested in HR departments and the personalities that occupy them.

On the other hand, some organizations take the emissary far beyond how I have described it thus far. Two big examples are the military and some companies run by religious evangelicals. You will be fired if you commit adultery, (more extreme-) if you drink alcohol, (more extreme-) if you are not a Christian. In theory, there are few limits on the number or type of restrictions employers could institute. They could control any arbitrary aspect of your life (with the exception of discrimination of “protected classes”).

Tolerance of varying lifestyle choices may be a reason for progressives to oppose outside work restrictions. My opposition is more general: the question of freedom. Most people believe in limitations on how much the government can dominate your life. But in the same way, you are not a free man if your life’s every second is (even theoretically) overseen by a boss/employer. If any person or organization should control you to that level, it should preferentially be a family, church, or other voluntary social function you choose to enter specifically to govern your lifestyle.

We have other employee protections. We have the 40 hour work week, sick and vacation days, anti workplace harassment policies, occupational safety policies, etc. These employee protections vary in their utility, but I believe a ban on outside work restrictions is especially protection.

Libertarians, despite their bent towards freedom, may oppose it on free market principles (as if it’s ok to loose freedom as long as it’s not the government). I would respond by reminding that employee protections need not be the result of government, rather, the result of simple negotiation/bargaining on the part of the employees, or of culture-setting by a principled CEO.

But what if the employee does something truly egregious, like breaking the law? Ok, if you have proof that an employee broke the law, submit it to the courts, and the employee will be punished by the judicial system. They may be put in jail, which will naturally force them to quit. They do not need to be disciplined by you, their employer; enforcing laws is not your purview. If you don’t have proof your employee broke the law, then forget it. You are free to take action if it directly pertains to their work, like if you think they stole office supplies. Otherwise, your speculation counts for nothing, as what the person did in their private life is none of your business (this paragraph also sums up my view of “cancellation”).

Employment is a transaction, not a familial relationship. You give the employer your labor. Your employer gives you wages and benefits. The employee can put restrictions on how the work is to be performed, or how to behave in their offices, or even how one is to behave during work hours. But everything else is extraneous to the relationship, equivalent to, “I don’t trade with people of a certain religion.” A corporation is a company, not a guild or paternal order. I call this the transaction model. You should not have to live in constant fear of watchful eyes from miscellaneous business transactions (jobs).

Despite the reference/overture I made to progressives earlier, there is one big reason they are extremely unlikely to support my proposal: “what about Nazis?” If an employee is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic (which in practice is used to just mean anti-progressive), then surely, we are under no obligation to employ them — surely, they must be let go?

Personally, I consider myself a free speech absolutist. Free speech itself, as a principle, is much broader than what is covered by the 1st amendment, and free speech absolutism is even broader than that. It is almost cliche at this point to say that free speech is not meant to protect merely-“acceptable” voices; we do not need free speech to protect ideas that are popular or that we already agree with. Free speech protects everyone, even voices you find disgusting. And more broad than the 1st amendment, which only prevents the government from violating free speech, I object to censorship from anyone.

But doesn’t it affect their work, if an employee is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? If one of my employees does not have respect for their coworkers, based on prejudice, won’t that thwart their ability to be a team player, and lead to a toxic environment in the team? I believe this argument is bit dishonest. If you witness examples of a worker behaving racist/etc. during work hours, then you are within your rights to take action. That does not come under the policy I’m proposing, because it happened at work. I believe the argument is dishonest because, would the kinds of people inclined to argue it be perfectly fine with an employee who is bigoted in their personal life, but behaves like a perfect progressive during work hours? I doubt they would. So although they are wording their objection as if my proposal actually accommodates it, in practice the concern is more political.

However, if phrased correctly, it’s not a totally invalid argument. Should a pedophile be allowed to be a school teacher? Of course not. And we shouldn’t have to wait around for the pedophile to misbehave at work before we front our concerns. This policy is also not against certain work-ethics restrictions, e.g., against bribe taking, or requirements to disclose relationships that may constitute conflicts of interest. As an aside, abusing a position to take action that targets the company, such as the sharing of confidential company information, or trash-talking the company itself, would also not be protected.

Then come the stranger/more intense cases. Should a neo-Nazi be allowed to teach in a public school? No… how about a Communist and Soviet apologist? If you would fire one but not the other, you would be acting based on your personal political positions, and that should be acknowledged. I personally would fire both, but not for political reasons. Rather, I would do so for the same reason that I would fire a flat-Earther or moon landing conspiracist teacher. School teachers are unique because their job specifically involves the spreading of information (to people who too young to challenge information), and so in their case the presence of fringe beliefs is relevant. But for 98% of jobs, I would not fire a neo-Nazi, Soviet apologist, flat-Earther, or moon landing conspiracist. It would not be relevant.

How can I possibly say that? How could I, in the theoretical capacity of CEO, refuse to fire a neo-Nazi? Here’s how I think about it: a CEO should not even be aware the personal beliefs of employees, because they should not be allowed to investigate and verify questions of that nature in their capacity as CEO. They can verify such claims outside of work, out of their curiosity, if they so choose, but that may not impact their choices as CEO. The CEO cannot take action based on what they don’t know. Again, a work/personal life separation: what you know off work is different than what you “know” as CEO, because “knowing” requires official verification.

Of course, companies are extremely unlikely to adopt this proposal, because they are unprincipled. They only care about what’s good for business, what’s good PR. Regardless, I believe there is benefit in describing the principle.

I recently read about a Mormon man who got fired from his job as a data scientist because he posted anti-progressive things on Twitter. In typical Mormon fashion, he remains cheery about the whole thing, and now runs what is essentially a social club for other doxed/cancelled men. He maintains extremely minor success as a right of center online persona, but in truth nothing worth losing his job over. He talks about the doxing like it’s not that big of a deal, but objectively speaking his life was seriously damaged.

I just want to remind people that, when it comes to the phenomenon of doxing, corporations/employers create just as much harm as the doxers. One of the main reasons people don’t want to be doxed is they don’t want to become unemployable. Corporations will always go with the low-risk play and give the doxers what they want. Even if unrealistic, we should hold them to the same anti-doxing principles as everyone else.