May 10 - Personnel
Terminating Employees for Off Duty Acts of Moral Turpitude
Speakers: Thomas S. Rice & Roberta "Robin" Cross
The employment relationship is unique. Employers quite rightly view employees to be extensions of their business or organization, serving as representatives of the employer’s goals and mission. Employees for many purposes become the public face of the employer. Indeed, in many circumstances, the acts of an employee can become legally binding on the employer. Accordingly, it would seem that employer has a very strong interest in employing people whom the employer believes display character traits consistent with its own values.
When an employee engages in bad acts while on the job, the employer’s interest in regulating and disciplining the employee for such is obvious and unquestioned. The more difficult question is posed by circumstances where the employee engages in bad acts while off-duty. Does the employer have a legitimate interest in disciplining an employee, to include terminating him, for such off duty conduct? If the employee and his character become extensions of the employer and the face of the business or organization, doesn’t the employer have a compelling interest in determining whether their employment relationship should continue when the employee has engaged in behavior that the employer finds morally repugnant? What are the legal constraints on such terminations?
In this presentation, the term “moral turpitude” shall refer to any act by an employee that portrays a base or depraved character, including illegal, unethical, or immoral conduct, as well as behavior that is judged to be outside societal norms. Though such standards of conduct are perhaps difficult at times to establish and consensus may not be universal, the oft-used phrase “conduct unbecoming” is the essence of concept addressed by this discussion.