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As the leader of a company, I find out that a couple of employees are publicly airing their comments against my political views, even though those political views are not creating a conflict of interest nor do they really affect how I do my job. Furthermore, those views do not contribute to any sort of discrimination within the workplace. As a result, though, their comments are impeding my ability to be an effective leader and my ability to publicly represent the company.

Ultimately, I have 2 options.

  1. I can fire the employees who made those public statements for insubordination, or at the very least I can force them to resign.
  2. I can resign and let new blood take over as the face of the company.

What should I do? Would I potentially face wrongful termination lawsuits (or discrimination lawsuits) if I did fire those employees?

EDIT: This really doesn't have anything to do with specific political view; this is strictly a question about how should a workplace function.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by ReallyTiredOfThisGame, Monica Cellio, RWY, CMW, Michael Grubey Apr 7 at 8:28

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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@JoeStrazzere - Why not? It certainly seems valuable to be able to ask about a workplace issue before it occurs, rather than during or afterwards. That can't be done without hypotheticals. –  aroth Apr 4 at 14:57
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This question is literally polling for opinions on a hypothetical situation. It does not belong here. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 4 at 20:46
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And This one for good measure: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 4 at 22:01
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@chad - I guess I should clarify, then. This question isn't a "poll," where I'm trying to gauge which is the more popular option. It is, like every other constructive question here, presenting a situation (albeit hypothetical) and asking for advice. The overall consensus, as given by Joe above and by other answers, is that there are more than 2 options. It's not a debate, and it's not asking for unfounded opinions. Many of the answers here also explain why and how, in addition to the "which" question. –  panoptical Apr 4 at 22:03
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It's not that hypothetical questions aren't allowed here, it's that they tend to lack enough real-world detail to be answerable without answerers speculating and guessing. With more details, hypothetical questions can work. We've discussed it as a chat event and at the same time I've also recommended against people doing this without really knowing what they're doing. In short, including more details helps stifle assumptions, leading to more targeted answers. –  jmort253 Apr 5 at 2:02

6 Answers 6

Not trying to make this personal, so when I say "you" I'm referring to our hypothetical CEO.

I don't see why there isn't a 3rd choice and do nothing. You get to voice your opinion publicly and so do your employees. Who died and left you king? You think you can just say anything regardless of who you offend and your employees just have to take it?

Now I don't think your hypothetical situation is realistic.

those political views are not creating a conflict of interest nor do they really affect how I do my job

Apparently it upset a few of your employees that they went to the trouble to publicly voice their disapproval. You can say it hasn't lead to you discriminating against anyone, but people are less inclined to trust you. How can they know for sure?

As a result, though, their comments are impeding my ability to be an effective leader and my ability to publicly represent the company.

How can you be an effective leader if no one is allowed to disagree with you? Maybe in a perfect world the leader of a company should be able to separate views of their personal beliefs from affecting their company, but that's not reality. The Dixie Chicks, Duck Dynasty and Paula Dean suffered the same fate.

Firing them is going to fall under your local laws. At least in the US, you can't prevent people from attempting a lawsuit. You can only take actions not to lose. Personally, if they are effective at their job, why fire them because of your personal animosity?

EDIT: Anyone who is the voice of a company who thinks with modern day social communications can make even slightly public disparaging comments about "those people" and get away with it, is a fool. Remember the two guys at the tech conf. who told a sexist joke and someone apparently went too far in trying to publicly shame them and lost her job? You have to be careful these days.

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Or as @Telastyn pointed out, there are other options. Maybe there needs to be a discussion to avoid public grievances, but the leader better let them know he is open to this criticism or employees will have no choice but to go public and shame him. –  JeffO Apr 4 at 14:04
    
+1, I agree for the most part, especially when it comes to trust. I've just seen other CEO's, not just Eich, come under fire for things like this (see Chik-fil-A), or for more stupid ideas (see AOL), and as a result their own employees publicly call for the CEO's resignation, even though the CEO is not a politician and does not (directly) answer to his/her employees (again, see AOL). –  panoptical Apr 4 at 14:04

You have far more than two options.

The thing that your question ignores is that employees almost never air public criticism without first airing private criticism. You (or your middle managers) had the opportunity to address these concerns privately, to kill the grapevine before that wave of opinion goes against you. I mean, this sort of people management is the core of your job...

In short, if it gets to the point that people are rallying publicly against you, you're probably screwed. In short, don't let it get to that point by addressing the criticism directly.

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+1 for pointing out that the OP built a false dilemma. –  NotVonKaiser Apr 6 at 2:26

Those aren't your only two options, and neither one is very good:

  1. Congratulations, you're officially an ogre. Those employees were as entitled to their opinion and to the free expression of it as you were to yours. And moreover it's likely that at least some of them were important/valuable contributors to the organization.

    So you've shot yourself in the foot by getting rid of key staff members for a spurious reason. And you've shot yourself in the foot by having such a questionable and transparent motive for doing so, which other employees will likely pick up on and criticize (if they don't flat out quit in protest). And you've shot yourself in the foot by giving the employees who were complaining a reason to complain even louder. Do you really think you can force them to resign and force them to keep quiet about it?

    And yes, depending upon what country you're in and the seniority of the employees, you may face wrongful termination claims. Particularly if you approach the situation in a way that leaves the employees with proof that you are firing them for the reasons stated.

     

  2. Do you believe that you are capable of leading the organization? Do you believe you are the best person available to do so? If so, then why would you walk away from that? And if not, then what are you doing there in the first place?

    Are the political views you espouse antithetical to the views and culture of the organization you hope to represent? If so, then regardless of what you feel the answers to the first two questions are, it may indeed be best if you were to step down. Or at the very least, to publicly and loudly renounce said political views. Organizations have a culture and a value-set that is bigger than whatever the person sitting at the top may want to dictate. Either you fit with that culture or you do not. It's the same with a CEO as it is with an employee. Someone who doesn't fit with the culture of an organization is best left to seek a different one.

     

So I don't think either of those options is very good. But #2 is better than #1. Because at least #2 is unlikely to ruin the company. Particularly if it's a tech company that relies upon the knowledge and expertise of its development team and thrives as much in spite of what the non-technical upper-managerial types do as it does because of them. Those companies need to retain their developers far more than they need any specific CEO.

In terms of what you actually should do, how about ignoring the criticism altogether? If it's being made outside of the office during non-working hours, then it's not really relevant in the office context. Those employees are entitled to their opinions, and to express them freely. Just as you are entitled to your political views. If you want to assert that you are free to endorse whatever political viewpoints you want and that it should make no difference in the professional context, you have to be willing to extend the same privilege to your employees. Which means that as long as your employees are professional at the office, you shouldn't be worrying about what they are doing/saying outside of it.

As long as your employees are providing valuable contributions at work, and are professional enough to not allow their personal views to interfere with their duties as an employee, then there's really no problem (and certainly no "insubordination") except that you feel "bothered" by the sentiments they have expressed. So man up, grow a thicker skin, and get over it. You've got a business to run.

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"If so, then why would you walk away from that? And if not, then what are you doing there in the first place?" -- in practice, because he was (for the sake of argument) the best person to lead the organization right up to the point where he became a PR liability. "When the facts change, I change my mind". –  Steve Jessop Apr 4 at 16:59

The first thing that needs to be determined in your question is what sort of a company you are the leader of. Are you the majority owner of a private corporation? Are you a board-elected CEO of a public for-profit corporation? A CEO of a non-profit? The position you are in dictates your choices.

In regards to your option #1, no you cannot usually just fire those employees for insubordination, because there is no insubordination as long as they are performing their tasks. Criticism of a CEO for their political stance is not insubordination, especially if it will have an impact for the well-being of the company and the bottom line. The situation is even more set against you if these employees are also shareholders. Shareholders have rights to voice their criticisms of management in certain mediums. You could potentially face a shareholder lawsuit if you tried to use your corporate position to silence them.

Option #2 is the only real option once you have lost the ability to rally the company employees around you and drive the vision/goals (in the case of a non-profit CEO; in the case of a privately-owned company you obviously don't care). If you don't step down and the company is revolting against you, you will be kicked out by the board and your reputation will only suffer. Politics is just one way you can lose the trust of your employees. You can lose it by being involved in scandals, by abusing your power, poor leadership and poor decision making, etc.

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"you cannot usually just fire those employees for insubordination". In the US, you can fire them for no reason at all. "I don't like being criticized" is a perfectly lawful explanation. Whether the firings would be a good idea is another question. –  Malvolio Apr 4 at 20:50

Ultimately, in a situation like this my personal course of action would be simple. Address the situation, state that my opinion is simply my opinion and that I do not wish to enforce my opinion on my employees. I respect their beliefs and hope that we can keep a professional relationship.

I would go further to state that I am not attempting to enforce my opinions upon them nor the company, that my personal beliefs as far as x,y and z goes does not impact my business decisions and that I hope that the employees of the company will have the same respect for the business.

If this issue was to start to impact business in a negative manner, I would look into replacing the people whom was causing the issues and being detrimental to the business, and if it was ultimately me than I would choose to resign.

At the end of the day, business is business. It's about providing a service and making money. If I want to go hate on someone after work, while it might be bad for my personal image, if the business continues to grow then who cares. If it impacts the business in a negative way or my beliefs are being pushed upon the business, that is where the problem lies.

Sadly, that is not the world we live in where people are respected enough to even be allowed to peacefully rally without massive consequences. Instead these people are discriminated against as much as the people they discriminate against.

Disclaimer:

I do not personally consciously discriminate against anyone. I try and avoid stereotyping as much as I possibly can. I firmly believe in equality and part of that is believing that even if I think someone is just a "biggot" and being discriminatory, they have the right to their opinion and I respect that.

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The key issue here is:

Those views do not contribute to any sort of discrimination within the workplace.

If that is genuinely the case, then it is unlikely that your employees will get upset with you. Plenty of bosses campaign for political parties or other causes, and unless those causes affect your employees, and as long as you don't expect them to agree with you, then its not going to cause any problems. If employees do object then ignoring them should be a pretty viable route.

That's not the case with Brendan Eich. Plenty of his employees perceive his stance as being discriminatory against them. If he doesn't believe all his employees should be treated equally, that gives them reasonable cause to lose confidence in his leadership.

The other issue is publicity. If your support of an unpopular cause is resulting in your company being associated with that cause then you are becoming a liability for your company, and it's reasonable to expect to lose your job. That may be the case whatever your employees are saying.

Firing employees who criticise you is going to be a huge can of worms, and a lawsuit would almost certainly result. Whether you win or lose it would hugely depend on the circumstances.

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"your support of an unpopular cause" -- and on divisive issues, for practical purpose both sides of the cause are unpopular. Because "unpopular" in politics doesn't mean that most people don't support it, it means that enough people oppose it strongly. For the canonical example of a divisive issue in the US, both pro-life and pro-choice CEOs could conceivably find themselves resigning under circumstances like these, although I don't have examples of either to hand. If you can't be bland, be discreet. –  Steve Jessop Apr 4 at 16:55
    
"If that is genuinely the case, then it is unlikely that your employees will get upset with you" I have to say, you are living in a dream world. The employee is faced with two choices: he can acquiesce and accept your explanation, or he can raise a stink and get you fired, thereby making other people fearful of opposing his beliefs. Which do you think he is more likely to do? –  Malvolio Apr 4 at 20:52

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