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Employer, Yes. Dictator, No.

Dan Bobinski
February 21, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

Essentially, the main reason an employer hires an employee is to solve problems.  Each employer has its own set of problems, be it not enough people to do a certain job, obstacles that must be overcome, or decisions that must be made.  People are hired to solve those problems by using their muscle-power, brainpower, or both.
Sensibly, most employers have a “code of conduct” that must be followed. Examples of this are safety rules, dress codes, and other policies such as no fraternization, no abusive language, no drinking or smoking on the job, etc.
Up to this point, the employers are on perfectly safe footing. But now some employers are starting to dictate what employees can and can’t do during their time off, and this is where they are crossing sacred lines. 
I’ll give on conflicts of interest and ethical issues (such as school teachers not moonlighting as strippers), but last time I checked, the word “employer” was not a synonym for “dictator.” 
As an example of dictatorship, earlier this month a Miller beer distributor in Racine, Wisconsin, fired one of its employees because a photo of him holding the “wrong” beer appeared in a newspaper pictorial.
Mind you, the employee was not shown endorsing the offending ale; he was simply out on the town on a Saturday night, drinking his beer of choice when a photographer happened to snap his picture.
Now if this guy was part of the company’s executive board, I could see it raising a stink. But this employee was a forklift driver – not necessarily the front lines of customer service.  I’m guessing most customers didn’t even know he worked for the “right” beer company. 
But somehow, the “right” beer company thought that being seen drinking the “wrong” beer was an egregious error, and the employee got the boot.
Let’s look at this scenario through the same lens, but in different situations. Let’s say you work the jewelry counter at Wal-Mart.  Should you be fired if you’re seen shopping at a K-Mart, Target, JC Penney or Sears?
What if your job is on an assembly line putting tires on Cadillacs, and your picture appears in the paper with you getting out of your Dodge pickup?
No employer should have the right to dictate where you must shop or what kind of beer you must drink.  (Can you tell I’m just a little bit passionate about this?)
But dictatorship is also going beyond using the “wrong” product.  Some companies are banning their employees from smoking, anywhere, anytime, period.  The reason?  Save on health care costs.  One such company, Michigan-based Weyco, Inc., has already fired employees for refusing to take a test to see if they use tobacco products.
Yes, this is a fact: Weyco employees are not allowed to smoke—ever. Not even in the privacy of their own homes. 
How fast is your head spinning? Smoking cigars and cigarettes is legal. What’s next?
With companies adopting (and getting away with) this “save-on-health-care-cost” mentality, it won’t be long before they’re banning obese people from their ranks.  And those who ride motorcycles, go hunting, kayaking, scuba diving, or rock-climbing will also be forced to give up their “dangerous” (but legal) activities.  When it gets to this point, which “sin” of yours will be put on the chopping block? 
Don’t misunderstand: There is no problem with employers banning certain activities from company property, enforcing drug or alcohol testing to make sure employees are sober at work, or banning conflicts of interest. But when employers dictate what employees can or cannot do on their own time, either in the privacy of their own homes or in other, private establishments, they have crossed the line. Big time.
Employees show up, they solve problems for the employer, they collect a paycheck for their time and efforts, and then they go on with their lives.  “Employer” is not a synonym for “dictator.” 
If employees don’t stand up to this new onslaught of bullying, it won’t be long before the workplace Gestapo is knocking on your door while you’re hiding in the crawlspace, wondering if those cookies your neighbor gave you are considered contraband.    

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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
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