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My first question on the site, so I hope it fits the boundaries of The Workplace.

I had recently read a horrific incident of the one Justine Sacco, whose professional & hence personal life turned upside down due to innocuous tweet intended as a joke. I have also seen many instances of people being fired from their workplace for posting offensive yet totally unrelated, to their work or company or industry, tweets/posts/blogs. I am definitely not talking about posting pornographic stuff against the law.

So, what justification should you give when you are about to be fired for an offensive comment you made online, to potentially save the job/to come out with a positive mindset? There can be numerous types of offensive content so I will narrow it down to religious, ethnic & racially offensive things.

closed as primarily opinion-based by JakeGould, Vietnhi Phuvan, DJClayworth, gnat, Michael Grubey Mar 25 '15 at 16:32

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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    Yea... that lady was like the PR manager or something. She was pretty high in the hierarchy AND she does PR. If you got someone like that making racist comments... well I don't blame the company for firing her (for potentially damaging their reputation). – Jack Mar 25 '15 at 9:56
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    @KharoBangdo: The internet (or her public twitter) isn't her personal space, though. As a business professional in the 21st century she should have known that. Regarding the question: I don't see how an "offensive comment you made online" is any different than "an offensive comment you made during a business meeting". – Godzillarissa Mar 25 '15 at 11:02
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    @KharoBangdo Nah, as a PR Manager she should've known the hellstorm she would've created by making comments like that. Usually cases like these, it's because the Internet goes on a witch hunt which eventually leads to harassing the employer until they fire them. – Jack Mar 25 '15 at 11:19
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    I don't like answering hypothetical questions. We don't do Harvard Business School case studies either for the same reason. Are you the one who made the offensive comment in the first place, and are you the one being fired for making that offensive comment? If you say "yes", the next question is what is the context of your comment i.e. what prompted you to make that comment? The question that comes after is when and how did you realize that the comment was offensive? Did you realize the minute you made the comment or did you realize when you got nailed for it? Many questions, no answer. – Vietnhi Phuvan Mar 25 '15 at 12:01
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    This is going to depend hugely on the comment (even within the very wide range of subjects you mention) and on the circumstances. So there is really no way we can answer this. – DJClayworth Mar 25 '15 at 13:19
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If things are already at the point where they are considering firing you, it is very unlikely that you can salvage the situation. Companies need to protect their own reputations and if they feel that association with you is damaging to them, they will fire you. The best you can do is apologize publicly to the person or group who were innsulted and if possible remove the offensive content. And not a non-apology either (I am sorry if you were offended) but a real one that acknowledges that what you said was wrong.

There is nothing new about this although the opportunities to do something publicly offensive have certainly increased. But people have bee fired in the past for offensive letters to the Editor of the newspaper or for participating in certain types of protests, etc. If you embarass your employer, you are likely to be fired. It really is as simple as that.

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    After following the link, what she posted was definitely nasty and not what I expect from a decent human being. "I am flying to South Africa, hope I won't get AIDS" is a deep insult to anyone living there. Who would think something like this would be funny? – gnasher729 Mar 26 '15 at 11:18
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Own it. Take responsibility for it. Don't make lame excuses. Accept the consequences for it. Take the opportunity to examine yourself and the situation and decide whether there is anything about yourself that should be changed. If there is, express that to your superiors and let them know you will change as a result. Do what you can to repair the damage, if possible. Money may not be the solution.

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