[A while ago I wrote that I might periodically re-post one of the more than 2000 Ethics Alarms essays that have appeared here since 2009. The criteria? Let’s see:
- A post that I have completely forgotten about, and don’t remember even after I’ve read it again.
- A post that may be interesting to consider in light of subsequent developments since it was written (in this case, social media posts triggering workplace discipline, and police-community relations)
- A lively discussion in the comments.
I think this post, based on a find by now-retired Ethics Alarms super-scout Fred, qualifies on all counts. It’s from May of 2014.]
“If there was any time I despised wearing a police uniform, it was yesterday at the Capitol during the water rally. A girl I know who frequents the Capitol for environmental concerns looked at me and wanted me to participate with her in the event. I told her I have to remain unbiased while on duty at these events. She responded by saying, ‘You’re a person, aren’t you?’ That comment went straight through my heart!”
Thus did Douglas Day, a police officer at the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, confess to Facebook friends his mixed emotions while doing his duty.
The day Day wrote his Facebook post, Capitol Police Lt. T.M. Johnson told him that the post “shows no respect to the department, the uniform or the law enforcement community which he represents.” About a week later, Sgt. A.E. Lanham Jr. wrote to Day that he “found the entire [Facebook] posting to be extremely offensive and shocking … This is just another episode of many incidents which show his bad attitude and lack of enthusiasm toward police work in general and toward our department in particular.”
Day was thunderstruck. “If they believed there was some sort of a violation I made, then why wasn’t it addressed? They never brought me in and never said anything to me,” Day said. “In 2½ years working there, I had no disciplinary action taken against me at any time. Nothing was ever written up and I received no reprimands.” So much for the “many incidents.”
Day’s lawyer calls the justification for Day’s firing “narrow-minded and flimsy.” “Other state workers also have Facebook pages. There is no violation of policy in what Doug did. And he was very careful not to name who he was talking about,” Simmons said. “Can they take away his right to free speech?”
Or is this a case of a government agency justifiably losing its trust in an employee for whom trust is essential?
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the day is…
Was Day’s firing ethical?
My take: I’m not convinced it was even legal, but I am quite sure it is unfair.
Day simply confided on his Facebook page that his duties required him to do things that caused him as an individual and a human being, to feel conflicted. That’s a thoroughly professional attitude. Day’s expressed thoughts would have been consistent with those of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, sending young men into the invasion of Normandy under atrocious weather conditions.
There was nothing in the Facebook post that should have reasonably caused Day’s superiors to doubt his loyalty, dedication, or professionalism. Indeed, I regard his anecdote as entirely benign, and more than that, an indication of his competence and trustworthiness.
This isn’t merely punishing speech; it’s punishing speech that indicates virtuous thoughts and an ethical character.
NOTE: While not exactly on point, this case from the Philippines, (the photo above comes from that incident) from 2013, shows how a different government might approach this situation…