Out-of-Office Antics and the Technological Evidence: A Human Resources Perspective

At one point or another in this increasingly technical world we live in, every body in the Human Resources profession is going to deal with, or at least hear about, a drunken mistake made by an employee that came back to haunt them through technology. We have the classic drunk-dials, or texts to the boss scenario, which, depending on the workplace and the nature of the call or text, the results can vary. There’s the drunk-dials new competition, the drunken social media post, which can be captured by a “friend” and posted without your knowledge, all while you’re busy “sleeping it off.” Raising the stakes a little, there’s the drunken social media posts from your works social media accounts, which is just plain outrageous, but relevant as it is in the news a fair amount. The way Human Resources deals with each of these infractions differs greatly depending on the circumstances. There are some general Human Resource policies to go by, and some useful rules to put in place, that can help Human Resource professionals get through these kinds of mistakes, and avoid them altogether.

Drunk-dials, or texts to the boss are never a good idea. Neither is posting inappropriate things of any nature to social media sites, personal or otherwise. This seems fairly obvious, but drunk people are not known for being reasonable. That said, it’s almost inevitable that this will happen at most workplaces at some point or another, so when it does, it’s best to have a policy in place.

There are two types of calls and texts, that most “drunk-dialing the boss” calls fall into, they are the “seeking friendship/acceptance” call and the “disgruntled employee” call, only the latter has to spell termination. The “seeking friendship/acceptance” drunken calls and texts, are far less dangerous, but a slippery-slope nonetheless. Most of the time these calls and texts contain phrases similar to these, “Can I have a ride home, I’m too drunk to drive?” or the even more annoying “I love you man, you’re more than a boss to me” and these are just a couple. These calls and texts can sound and look like all types of things, but when the employee is impaired enough that the boss can determine that they are indeed intoxicated, there is an issue.

At some places of employment even the jolliest of drunk-dials, may be found as cause for immediate termination. If the nature of the call was friendly, while extremely misguided, some employers may choose disciplinary action other than termination. This completely depends on the business. From my experience, at many service-oriented jobs, such as restaurant’s, this type of thing is fairly typical and would result in nothing more than a stern talking to, or a write up at most, depending on the employees professional habits previous to the call, text, or social media post. In a more professional and litigious environment, this is considered misconduct, which reflects badly upon the business itself, and thus would most likely be grounds for immediate termination, as determined by the Human Resources procedures.

The same general rules go for social media posts, although there are a few more layers involved in this dilemma. Depending on the content of the post, the employer’s ability to access it, and the work environment, disciplinary actions vary greatly. If an employee never adds or accepts anyone from work to their personal social media accounts and beefs up their privacy settings to the maximum, employers would have no idea what they were posting, and there would never be an issue. Of course things aren’t always that simple, and people aren’t always that smart. When an employee posts an outrageous status update for all of the office to see, there’s likely an issue there, and it should be dealt with as the Human Resource policy reads.

Any “disgruntled employee” calls, or public social media posts containing slander, or drunken tweets from the professional Twitter or Facebook accounts, such as Democratic Washington Rep. Rick Larsen’s three former staffers four months worth of publicly drunken Twitter escapades, should be considered quitting on the spot. Similar to a “no-call no show” this displays a level of unreliability that is a huge red-flag for a whole number of issues aside from their apparent problem with alcohol. Including the flagrant public liability issue of having a disgruntled employee with a drinking problem. Best to nip it in the bud and use their inappropriate behavior as an excuse to terminate them, and let them risk a defamation suit as an ex-employee.

There are simple ways to prevent these kinds of mishaps, although it becomes harder and harder with new technology popping up and new ways to expose our personal lives presenting themselves at every opportunity. One simple way is to discourage friend requests from employees. While adding the boss as a friend on Facebook may seem like a nice gesture, remind employees that they may not want everyone at work to see everything they post, and that you take out-of-office professionalism very seriously, and that will most likely give them the picture that if they have inappropriate posting habits, to keep it in their circle. It’s also a good idea to include these topics in orientation, while most places of employment have general out-of-office conduct policies, make sure to be very clear that this includes all of the aforementioned behavior. Finally, do your best to deal with any signs of substance abuse in an employee immediately.  By following the proper Human Resource Policies, as indicated by state and federal guidelines, you can avoid such unfortunate incidents altogether. Just make sure to deal with the problem as soon as an employee shows up hung-over, or their performance is any way altered by their out-of-office conduct. Sometimes, if you take the proper preventative measures, you can stop the problem in its tracks.

With new years upon us and the holiday season in full swing, the topic of out-of-office over-indulging is relevant. With the increase of technology as a part of our daily lives, it’s important we acknowledge and plan for the times when full access to technology shows us its down-side professionally. That said, have a happy new years! Keep the responsible celebration to a maximum, and the irresponsible communications to a minimum!

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