Unless you’ve been one of the lucky few to escape the cold grasp of the webs this week, you may have heard a thing or two about the controversy surrounding the A&E show, “Duck Dynasty.” While there are many heated debates going on at the moment regarding the opinions expressed by one of the cast members and his subsequent indefinite suspension from the network, it seems as though the HR issues associated with this incident are being largely overshadowed on the premise of free speech. (Given the nature of these comments, it’s not surprising!)
I’ve encountered numerous posts online calling this merely an exercise in free speech and therefore, no one should face any consequences. However, it seems to me that this is not an issue of prohibiting freedom of speech, but rather, the complete opposite. A “Duck Dynasty” cast member told a reporter his opinions, freely. A&E, his employer, didn’t like his comments and put him on a leave of absence, freely. Both sides exercised their rights without being silenced, which is exactly what the First Amendment allows. What happens after free speech occurs is left to the discretion of others.
In the U.S., employers and employees have legal rights, which serve to protect both the company and the individual from things like harassment, discrimination, and offensive behavior. Prior to completing the hiring process, both are expected and obligated to sign a contract agreeing to set conditions. Once signed, these conditions can be enforced when unsavory behavior arises from either side.
In addition, as it pertains to A&E Networks, diversity and acceptance seems to be a large portion of their brand. Their website states, “Diversity extends beyond race, color, creed or sexual orientation. Diversity is that combination of traits and characteristics that makes each of us unique individuals and what brings us together to achieve our goals. Diversity is about respect, openness, innovation and knowledge. It’s what we practice in our business.”
And even though the cast member made his comments outside of the TV show, he is still a representation of the network’s brand. If I misrepresented my own employer and was destructive to our brand, I could and would expect to be relieved of my duties. I signed a contract and agreed to abide by the fair conditions set by my employers. As with any contract, failure to uphold my side of the agreement is grounds for removal.
So, HR professionals, I ask you: What are your thoughts on this debate? How would you handle such a situation?
Image used under Creative Commons from Dave Nelson.