Can you fire worker for being a public jerk?

When an employee's bad behavior outside of the workplace draws negative attention on your organization online, is it legal to terminate that person?

That question is getting new focus after a lawsuit was filed recently by Amy Cooper, a dog-walker who called police on a black man in New York's Central Park last year. One day after the viral video exploded online, her employer (Franklin Templeton) fired her. Now she has sued the company, saying she was fired because of her gender and her race, and that the company failed to investigate what happened in the park.

Similar lawsuits have been filed by employees who were fired for their high-profile participation in the January 6 Capitol riots and violent race protests last year.

With certain exceptions, private employers generally can terminate employees for any legal reason.

"While Ms. Cooper absolutely has every right to act however she wants outside the workplace, Franklin Templeton has every right to fire her if it concludes that such behavior is racist, exposes it to negative publicity, or both," says attorney John Hyman of Wickens, Herzer & Panza in Cleveland.

Even if the termination is legal, you could still face liability for how...

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