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We are currently in the final stages of a public project and have just discovered that one of our employees has produced other work that supports a controversial public figure. Furthermore, as the employee has already completed all the work we have commissioned (major design work, now already implemented), it would be nigh-impossible to cut him out of the project at this point.

Since we are a small team (less than 10 people), having one person who has values contrary to both the spirit of the venture and our user-base could be detrimental to how the project will ultimately be received.

How should we proceed? Should we ignore the employee's behavior and continue with the release? Should we issue a statement distancing ourselves from his viewpoint beforehand?

To clarify:

The employee's previous art is similar in style to our current project, but not related subject-wise.

Our project focuses on social rights.

We're trying to find ways to minimize any damage that might be caused by our association with the employee, while trying not to single him out.

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    Can you add more detail why it would be important? I don't expect my local supermarket to distance themselves from the guy who stocks their shelves, even if he supports a locally not well liked party. As long as he does not do it on his job, neither the owner nor the customers care. I suspect your business is different? – nvoigt Jun 20 '17 at 8:01
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    If you want to discuss the content or specifics involved here, take it to chat. The question can be addressed without debating/arguing the specific situation in the comments - that's the purpose of chat. – enderland Jun 20 '17 at 13:55
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    It would be good to edit the location for this request as there the ability of your company to take action without facing consequence will vary greatly based on this. – enderland Jun 20 '17 at 13:58
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    Is your organization itself political/advocacy/etc? For most employers it shouldn't matter; who cares about the views of somebody on a team producing a video game? On the other hand, if your organization is pro-X then you might care if one of your employees is publicly anti-X, same as Ford might care about high-profile employees who drive Hondas. Please clarify. (You said "social rights"; does the employee oppose those social rights? Visibly? Or does he just quietly believe that tabs are better than spaces?) – Monica Cellio Jun 20 '17 at 16:04
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    @sds That's not a duplicate. They have in common that they're about an employee's beliefs, but the other aspects are different. – Jeremy Banks Jun 20 '17 at 17:39
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A business does not endorse the political opinions of its employees, most businesses will employ people with a wide range of views and experiences, so I don't really see what the problem is.

It also seems highly vindictive and unethical to single a person out for discrimination because they hold beliefs that are not fashionable at your organization.

Personally, I wouldn't do anything. Show some tolerance for people that hold different opinions and just let him do his work. Is a political litmus test really something you want to establish at your company?

If you must do something, add a generic disclaimer somewhere that the views and opinions of your employees to not necessarily represent the views of the organization.

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    "add a generic disclaimer somewhere that (...)" and also set up a company wide policy that unless explicit authorization is issued, nobody is allowed to speak on the organization's behalf. My company employee's guide has this directive: Employees exercising their political rights must not use the company's name. (freely/poorly translated). – Mindwin Jun 22 '17 at 12:46
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Different tone here.

In a perfect world, personal politics matter nothing and as long as the employee can behave himself, all is ok and well. This is how it should be, private views should be unimportant to your work as long as you do your work well.

We're not in a perfect world. Depending on the target audience and exact nature of your project, this could spell the end of it if discovered.

We're living in a world where people boycott products and games over political opinions of employees, even if those had no bearing on the actual product. This is reality now and it happens every day.

If you anticipate your target audience to be sensitive to that, this guy is a massive liability. You shouldn't fire him, you should still pay him since it's not his fault, but you may have to re-comission and re-implement the work this guy has done, to avoid what so many companies have felt first hand by now, a media firestorm.

This is wholly independent from the subject matter itself and the political opinion of the employee. In today's hyper charged political and social climate, you need to be very aware that people will raise a giant stink if so much as your janitor expressed some unpopular opinions at some point. The culture of boycott and block is very much alive needs to be accounted for, disgusting and unfair as it is.

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    I greatly disagree. You just made "media firestorms" that much more potent. People don't negotiate with terrorists in order to not make acts of terrorism be a viable strategy to achieve goals. People do not pay ransom in order to prevent abduction to be a viable means of obtaining money. People don't filter employees by everything someone on the internet might object to in order to prevent random trolls dictating what business can and cannot be done. Your approach of appeasement damages society as a whole and is highly unethical. – nwp Jun 22 '17 at 10:12
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    I disagree as well. If your customers hate Irish people, you still have to hire Irish customer-facing employees. You cannot yield to the prejudices and bigotry of others, even where it financially benefits you to do so. Hiding the Irish guy(s) in the back is not acceptable. – David Schwartz Jun 22 '17 at 10:22
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    @DavidSchwartz This answer is highly pragmatic, you can't "disagree" with it. What is your comment on this: "mozilla ceo resigns after furor over gay rights" – Sharky Jun 22 '17 at 11:10
  • @Sharky this answer is highly pragmatic people and make world a worse place for everyone. It's the pragmatic people that have most potential of turning other people's life into hell. – user50700 Jun 22 '17 at 11:52
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    @Sharky My comment on it is that it's an exceptional situation involving a CEO of a major corporation and is newsworthy precisely because of how exceptional it is. Sure, it may be pragmatic to fire black people if your customers are prejudiced, but it's evil and foolish to advise people to routinely respond to prejudice that way. (Not that your answer goes that far, of course.) – David Schwartz Jun 22 '17 at 17:38
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I'm not sure anything needs to be done. The person on your team is there in a professional, not a personal capacity, and is there to deliver a certain amount and quality of work.

Now, if there was a problem with their personal beliefs interfering with their professional output, then something might need to be done. However, you stated, yourself, that you are now in the "final stages" and that this was "just discovered." Clearly, the quality of work was such that it did not raise any red flags.

If that is the case, then the worker in question, despite the philosophy of the venture, was able to put aside their personal beliefs and perform work in a competent and professional manner. Since they've demonstrated they can do this, there should be no reason to punish them over what they do on their own times, by their own beliefs, when not working on your project. To be blunt, really, it is none of your business.

Something to also consider, if this employee is able to be professional and take the proverbial "high road" and not inject his personal beliefs into the work product, shouldn't you also be able to meet that standard?

I'll avoid the obvious liability issues with dumping someone because you don't like their personal opinions or politics outside of work, because that's been well-covered by others. If you did fire someone for their politics, and they're generally active in their personal life in that regard, don't you think they'd loudly proclaim what happens to them to the world? Do you think your own firm would be, in a business world, rewarded or harmed for taking such actions based on someone's personal opinions? It would probably reflect poorly on the professionalism of your own team, IMO. If you're trying to avoid damage to image from association with them, I'd argue the potential for damage in trying to disassociate could be much worse.

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    +1, << I'm tired of angry mobs. I'm a professional worker and a human being. Perseus is a professional worker. They've even taken that away from us. What we are. Still they want us to thank them anyway. One day, somebody's gonna have to make a stand. One day, somebody's gonna have to say: "Enough." >> – Patrick Trentin Jun 20 '17 at 17:40
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    @PatrickTrentin, is that a quote from somewhere? – user812786 Jun 22 '17 at 19:31
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    @whrrgarbl kind of, clash of titans – Patrick Trentin Jun 22 '17 at 19:55
  • @PatrickTrentin oh I see! I was wondering what I missed that 20 others got :) – user812786 Jun 22 '17 at 20:38
  • @whrrgarbl - My cursory Google search came up empty, too, so thanks for asking. – PoloHoleSet Jun 23 '17 at 13:45
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Let's look at this from several points of view:

  • You are concerned that your employee has done major work for an individual / organization / company that has a point of view / belief at a minimum that is significantly against your own beliefs. The employee did this work prior to working for your company. Just as well, the employee was hired fully knowing that the scope of the work for this company would be for project _____, which happens to fall in line with your own beliefs, which we've already separated from their previous work.
  • The employee, fully knowing (I would like to hope) the scope of the project, has agreed to work with / for / in cooperation with your group. The work they have produced is satisfactory, and you are not at all dissatisfied with their productivity or professionalism (after all, you're asking how to cut them out without good justification).
  • The project is going to be largely viewed / used / whatever describes the consumption by a group that is very much in-line with your own personal beliefs, which we've distinguished from the 'project' that the employee worked on. We're not describing these beliefs as the employee's beliefs, because the employee (at least described by your question) has not blatantly said "my beliefs are in-line with ____." This group may be upset by the employees association with the particular project, aligned with ____.

Ignore whatever fills in the "beliefs" on either side, let's be generic.

First, you have several options:

  1. Depending on the local legality (in the U.S. this is entirely illegal AFAIK, but IANAL), you can fire the employee. This is probably the worst possible decision to make, as you'll probably have to give them a nice severance package to make sure they don't tell the world that you fired them for believing in _____, which would damage your companies reputation so badly I'd be surprised if you didn't become the next Theranos.
  2. Discuss this with the employee. Assuming this is a project where there is some sort of crediting / accreditation, consider the option of either obfuscating (via a pen-name, etc.) or entirely removing credit to the employee to "avoid a potential negative public response." Depending on the project, scope, and employee, this may actually work out really, really well. You can keep the employee recused from the public (mostly), and still retain good relations.
  3. Scrap the project. This is probably the second worst possible decision. I put this above firing the employee in acceptability because this will help preserve some of your reputation, depending on the "reason" you scrapped it. At least you can make something up that helps preserve your public image.
  4. If you have a different, non-special-organization project, consider swapping the designers / employees. This gives you the best of both worlds: you can be truthful about who was the designer on the project, and you can avoid the potential negative public image of having an employee whose "views" (I quoted it because you don't say, and I assume you don't even know if the employee worked on previous project because of their views: you're speculating) don't align with the project.
  5. Fire-fight. Wait until release to see what happens. It may be the case that no one really cares, or they may care. Handle it like many other organizations and just do it and fight whatever fires may arise. Chances are very few people will look up the designer, find that they supported ____, and start a riot against your company for that.

You also need to research more projects this employee worked on. Have they been on 25 different projects, excluding yours? If so, then it really isn't a big deal that one of the projects was for _____, which didn't fall in line with your particular beliefs. I've worked on literally dozens of projects, and the scope of the "beliefs" of each project range so far across the medium that it's not even funny any more. Try not to be a bigot in this case.

In the end, it all boils down to which role you want to play. Who do you want to support? Yourself? Your "company"? (are you, in-fact, in control of the company?) The public? Your employee? Personally, professionally, ethically and morally, I would select either option 2 or 4. Chances are, if the employee is passionate about helping people, they'll agree to one or the other. Most people are understanding about these things, and it seems a lot of issues on this site boil down to "poor communication", such as this situation. You're literally asking Internet strangers to tell you how to resolve an issue behind the back of someone who has done no wrong. That's the worst kind of disrespect. Treat your employee with the same respect they have treated you, and it sounds like they have been very respectful.

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    This is probably my favourite answer—it outlines multiple options and asks some very important questions to consider when evaluating them. – Jordan Gray Jun 23 '17 at 9:45
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Don't do anything.

Odds are that this individual's previous work will have no effect on your current project. In the unlikely case that there is some sort of public outcry against this individual, issue a simple statement saying that your organization is an equal opportunity employer and that any political beliefs held by individual employees are not representative of the organization.

Don't try to solve a problem where there isn't one.

5

What do you do when you're about to touch a stove that might burn you? You naturally look at your hand at the point of contact as you're about to touch the stove.

What do you do when you're about to touch a dog that you're afraid might bite you? Here, you might also start looking at the point of contact as you're about to touch the dog because you're afraid that the dog will suddenly bite your hand. In other words, you broadcast that fear to the dog and that fear of being bitten can quickly engender a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you're afraid of the dog, the dog will be afraid of you. Fear begets fear.

In my opinion, this is what you're doing right now. Nothing has happened yet. But you're so afraid that something might happen, that you might be the one to trigger the backlash yourself.

This is currently a non-story. Let it be that. This person is not your CEO, nor your celebrity spokesperson, nor your talk-show-host. You're not paying this person millions of dollars for representing your organization. You don't have a morality/political clause in your contracts. Your organization is not some huge corporation that can afford to redo work that has already been done.

Furthermore, paying him and redoing his work anyway (as Magish suggested) would still be a huge insult to him and may create the backlash you're worried about. At the most basic level, this guy is still a human being, he does the kind of work he does for the money, yes, and many other selfish motivations, most likely, but just like any of us, he also does it for wanting to feel useful. Rob him of that and you only demonstrate a profound lack of empathy towards him.

Again, do not focus on what might happen. Do not focus on your fear. Release the group project. Do it properly as you would any other project. Do not hold back on publicizing the project on your end. Give the person the credit he deserves (I assume he did a good job for his part).

Do not try to hide or obfuscate his identity (as someone else suggested). Do not even mention that he try to use a different version of his name. If he wants to have some of his work to appear under one name and some other work appear under a slightly different name, that's his prerogative and that's his call. But it is not something that you should even suggest to him.

As to ignoring him, you shouldn't ignore the obvious either. You can tell him you ran across the other project he created. You can start a conversation about politics and about the underlying intent of your group project. Considering that your work content is highly political and agenda-focused. I think it would only be natural to ask such questions. Just don't use the group project as an excuse to scold him for his views. And don't imply that you'll all be boycotted over this, or that your own image has been tarnished by your association with him. The real truth is that you don't know.

Do not brace for impact. Don't try to do damage control preemptively. Deal with any complaint as they come over time (if they come at all).

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    "What do you do when you're about to touch a dog that you're afraid might bite you? You look at your hand as you approach the dog" I'd be looking at the dog more than my hand (same goes for the stove example). "If you're afraid of the dog, the dog will certainly be afraid of you." That makes little or no sense. Not in a general context, and even less for dogs specifically. – Flater Jun 21 '17 at 14:55
  • @Flater, Thanks, I've since corrected my post. As to not understanding fear engendering fear, imagine there is a small dog that obviously wants to be petted by you, but that starts shaking out of fear every time it comes near you. That same dog may try to bite you if you try to pet it. It's the same thing if a homeless man comes to you at a gas station and offers to wash the windshield of your car for free because he claims he just wants to be friendly. The very fact that the homeless man is so afraid of telling you the truth makes you afraid of him. Fear begets fear. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 22 '17 at 20:31
  • I should also add that I am not trying to imply anything negative by comparing a dog to a human. Dogs are social pack animals, just like we are. That's why I think we share some particular traits with them. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 22 '17 at 20:42
  • I like this answer. A lot. However, in present political climate, it's rather... idealistic. – user13655 Jun 28 '17 at 15:30
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This sounds more like a framing issue than anything. You haven't mentioned that this employee has done anything that would anger your clientele - in fact he's done great work in their interest by contributing his time to the project. And you haven't mentioned any kind of political purge going on within your organization to remove people who do not share your exact worldview.

At best, this tells me that you have a company culture that is tolerant, professional, and inviting of all beliefs - even ones that do not entirely mesh with the leadership's personal beliefs. You're willing to be straight with them if they're straight with you - this is a good thing. I can't think of a better quality from a company that is dedicated to "social rights".

This can even be used as a shield from criticism - if accused of being partisan, intolerant, or otherwise closeminded, you now have good cause to push back by noting that your project was made by a politically diverse group who do not share any one belief system, but who all felt motivated enough to work on your project.

protected by Monica Cellio Jun 20 '17 at 16:07

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