Zoom Ethics: A Shocking Home vs Workplace Conflict

…and, in my opinion, a really, really, stupid one.

I’d say that this story should be in online glossaries to describe “pearl-clutching.” Also “virtue-signaling.”

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that Brian Akers, president of the Charter Oak Unified School Board in Covina, California, drank beer out of a bottle during a Zoom video board meeting last week, and everyone is FREAKING OUT!!! 

The video conference platform allows people to have  in-person meetings from their homes. People drink beer in their homes. They do it while talking on the phone, or messaging on Facebook. So, after finishing dinner and logging into the meeting, Akers took a few sips from the already opened bottle of beer without giving it a thought.

School board members were offended and aghast, apparently under the impression that it’s 1929.  Akers, they said, violated the board’s alcohol and drug-free workplace policy. “This is an isolated and unfortunate incident that was quickly addressed by members of our governing board, once it was brought to our attention,” board Vice President Gregg Peterson said in a statement. “As elected officials, we need to be transparent and hold ourselves accountable for our actions.” They “addressed” it by reprimanding Akers.

After all, he had to be held accountable……for engaging in a completely legal and normal act in his own home that harmed no one, that every single member of the school board has done themselves, probably countless times, and that everyone knows they have done it. Never mind: Greg Palatto, a psychologist and executive board member of the Charter Oak Educators Association said he was “taken aback,” and was in such shock that he couldn’t even process what he had seen.

“No way could that have been a beer, maybe a root beer.” he told reporters. “Then we look back on the live and yup, that’s a Pacifico!”

OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!

NOT A PACIFICO!!!!!!!!

Palatto declared that Akers’ having a beer on camera sets a bad example for students, some of whom watch school board meeting videos for civics classes. “Kids are watching us,” Palatto said. And, as we all know, no kids have any idea that adults drink beer.

Some parents, like John Sitz,  who has three children who graduated from district schools, said that Akers should resign. “I would like to see him resign due to the fact that if it was anybody else caught drinking on the job, you would be walked off the premises at that point in time,” said Sitz. Walked out of his own home, you idiot? When unique circumstances force people to turn over their privacy and homes to employers, some reasonable leeway is called for, not rabid intolerance and hyperventilating over nothing, and a single swig of beer is nothing.

“I’ll apologize to anyone. It wasn’t intentional,” Akers said, descending into full grovel.

He should not apologize. He should tell his grandstanding colleagues to apologize to him. He should say, “Yup, I drank a beer during the meeting. I often drink beers at home, and I was home. I didn’t think about it, in part because I foolishly thought my colleagues on the board had common sense and a modicum of proportion and fairness. I was wrong. They don’t. They can have my resignation if they want it, but they won’t get an apology, because I did nothing wrong. Now I’m going to have another beer.”

But hey, I might be wrong. Let’s see what a poll shows…

54 thoughts on “Zoom Ethics: A Shocking Home vs Workplace Conflict

  1. My perspective is a little different. If a board meeting is considered a job, or work, then he probably shouldn’t have been drinking. I work from home, and have for years. Even though I’m in my own home, I cannot drink while I work because that’s company policy.
    I don’t understand the call for him to resign though. If he was working, and the policy is to not drink while working, he should apologize for the oversight, and be done with it.

      • How is this different from the stories you brought up recently about lawyers attending Zoom Court hearings in their pajamas.

        Is it merely the issue of decorum?

        (Full disclosure: had a Zoom Court hearing today and had on my suit and tie, but did not wear a belt…or shoes. Did wear pants though.

        For me, his behavior should be the same in the virtual meeting as it would have been in person. He should not be intoxicated and should not be drinking a beer, smoking, or sitting around shirtless.

        Having said that, this is a minor thing caused by the cognitive dissonance many people are experiencing by mixing two worlds together (I would make the Seinfeld reference here if I could recall it). He should acknowledge that; they should accept that; everyone should move on.

        -Jut

        • WORLDS ARE COLLIDING!

          Judges are dictators, and courtroom decorum is a special case. A judge can dictate acceptable demeanor, and from a client service perspective, a lawyer would be a fool not to exhibit the best and most respectful conduct and decorum.

          I agree that his conduct should be the same in a virtual meeting as in a live one,but it was a lapse, and should have been shrugged off with a nice mention afterwards to be more careful, and nothing more. Once the press was brought in,the complainers became the miscreants and at that point, I’d insist on their apologies.

      • They don’t pay for rent, but they do pay for my internet, and they pay me to work. I consider it a privilege to be able to work from home, saving me 3 hours a day in commuting to and from work. Not drinking while working was part of my work contract, whether in the office or at home. I agreed to those terms, and have no issue adhering to them. After work, I do as I like, although I’m not sure people in Wisconsin ever drink Pacifico.

        • I’m pretty sure school board meetings take place after work—he said it was after dinner. If you agreed to that in the contract, then you have to abide by it, but I wouldn’t agree to that on principle. Would you agree to a dress code while at home? How about a speech code?

          • While performing activities my employer pays me to perform, I am careful to speak professionally, and when I have video calls, I dress professionally. I don’t consider my location license to be disrespectful to company standards or expectations. I wouldn’t wear my gym clothes, sip a beer, or discuss religion or politics in the office, so I don’t do it while at my home office either.
            If the board meeting is volunteer, and not paid work by an employer, or if they don’t have a specific code of conduct related to board meetings, then asking him to resign was even more outlandish.

          • I don’t like this take. It requires a lot of ideas to be looked at in a very small vacuum. I have sex in my home, I probably wouldn’t sign a contract that did not allow me to have sex in my home, but if I had sex in my home while on a work-related Zoom meeting, and particularly one where I knew kids were watching, I could probably, reasonably, expect to be fired. This “It’s in your home” nonsense is a non-sequitur.

            • You really think having sex during a meeting on camera and drinking a beer are equivalent? Kids see their parents drink beer in their homes—presumably they don’t see them have sex. The burden should be on the entity demanding to be allowed in the home to make concessions, not on the home being invaded. Every participant should be given the option of going sound only (which is possible on Zoom—I know that because I have insisted on it, telling my fellow conference participants that I choose to be naked and wear a lobster on my head in my office.

              • Not equivalent, having sex is obviously the more extreme example, but more related than you seem to want to credit.

                I think the hangup is that you’re still pretending this isn’t a work function. The entity isn’t demanding entry into your home, they’re demanding their employee, wherever that employee chooses to be, perform a duty of employment, while conforming to the minimum standards of employment.

                • But allowing your employer to take over your home and invade your privacy is not a legitimate minimum standards of employment, unless it was part of the original employment agreement. The same goes for the school. They have to say “please,” and they have to agree on reasonable conditions.

                    • I think that situation is the exception that proves the rule. If I’m in my home, my home’s rules apply, and the workplace’s rules cannot be imposed on me. If the workplace imposes new rules, then we have to agree on them before hand, or there can be no complaints if they are breached.

                      No drinking on the job would apply to a coffee cup with beer in it in the workplace. Would a single sip from a coffee cup that had beer in it in a Zoom conference from the home be legitimately and fairly treated as “drinking on the job”? I’d take that case on a contingent fee basis.

                      By the way, Jackie Gleason once got in trouble with CBS for saying that his cup had booze in it on the air, when it didn’t.

                    • I think there’s an issue of trust involved here. and the abuse of it.

                      If while working from home, one day I showed up to my desk two hours late, left two hours early, and drank like a madman between 10 and 3, so long as I didn’t have a project that was urgently due, a meeting, or a call, my employer probably wouldn’t know about it. and likely, never would That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a completely shitty way to spend your workday.

                      Similarly, you could probably get away with the coffee cup of beer. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a shitty thing to do.

                      And just because you might get away with it if you didn’t do it on camera, that doesn’t mean that you *can* do it *on* camera.

  2. Your suggested statement, Jack, is far more polite than mine would be. Mine would be something like, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry my colleagues on this board are fucking idiots.”

    He should now make a point to drink very conspicuously from a bottle in a paper bag at every future meeting.

  3. If he wouldn’t drink a beer during a regular school board meeting – as in, one that happened before all the politicomedial hysteria we’ve witnessed of late – then he shouldn’t drink a beer during a video conference.

    Dumb mistake on his part. Wild over-reaction. I’d bet he wasn’t all that popular on the school board before any of this stuff happened.

    • I am in general agreement. You wouldn’t drink at a public meeting out of respect for the community. You shouldn’t drink during a remote meeting for the same reason. That said, it was a de minimus oversight and should be treated accordingly. “We are all in this together” (ugh) should mean ignoring for minor faux pas’s.

    • This is the first instance of the correct take in this thread. It was a mistake, he shouldn’t have done it, but I think a little leeway ought to be given seeing as how most of the current working-at-home phenomenon is new to most people.

  4. I voted absurd but I am biased in that I find the American puritanical attitude to alcohol to be absurd in general. A dual national who has lived the last 50 years in England, I visited my grandparents in Kansas one Thanksgiving some years ago. I had elected to stay at a motel but was to join them at their house for dinner. I wanted to take a nice bottle of wine (a common and expected convention here) and was directed to the liquor store. It was the seediest store I’d ever seen and going in reminded me of a time I had slunk self-consciously into a sex shop to buy some items for a friend’s hen night. My grandparents reaction at me turning up with the wine was one of horror and conviction that I was an alcoholic. I swear there’s some remnant of the Prohibition Era that is embedded in the American DNA which my having only half of it and many years of socialising at the pub, I have escaped.
    I have tried to look at this objectively with my (former) employment lawyer hat on from the side of his employer who might have to defend disciplining him – to think through the argument that whilst he was at home by government mandate, he was nonetheless working and was obliged to act professionally. It’s a good argument and I know the correct response to your poll is that it was fair but overstated. (I truly hope that psychologist doesn’t see actual patients as I would fear for them.) But then I think back to that Thanksgiving and all I can see is scolds. Bugger them, I’m off to the pub. Metaphorically since they’re all shut.

  5. I’m convinced that for any Zoom meeting I’m expected to attend in the capacity of a volunteer civic board, I will be “Audio only”. You can click the button to turn off your video and only show a headshot. I’ll opt for that. Desperate times call for an ability to work remotely. I need not give up the privacy of my home to appease that endeavor.

    • My camera is set for ask before every use. For most meetings it’s off. I’m not sure of the point of jerky bad bandwidth video.

      I consider it a selling point of working at home. I don’t like looking at my co-workers and without video, I don’t have to.

  6. While I agree, and voted for, the idea that this is all absurd, it’s also a question of optics. I taught in a very conservative community for 26 years, and it was only during the last five or so that alcohol sales within the city limits were legal (not simply “there were no establishments with alcohol available” – it was NOT LEGAL to sell it until passed by referendum ten years or so ago). So if a board member were drinking a beer on a Zoom meeting in my former district, there would probably have been a similar reaction from the community, though maybe not the board. A simple apology along the lines of “I wasn’t even thinking about the idea that, though engaging in a perfectly legal activity inside the confines of my private residence, this may have been inappropriate. I was simply having an after-dinner beer. I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.” But in 2020 we can’t help but make everything into a major incident and be offended by it all…

  7. And what about any other people living with a board member, do they have to behave according to the board’s rules also?

  8. I’d made a post on a previous entry a couple of weeks ago regarding how, post-pandemic, employers are probably going to invest in more work-at-home technology and will certainly start developing work at home guidelines to go with it, just as many have developed social media guidelines in the aftermath of employees taking to Facebook or Twitter with their workplace rants.

    This story is a good example of what employers will take into consideration when setting those guidelines. I can definitely see rules about drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage while you’re on a video conference, home or not.

  9. I would bet there are many events educators (whose districts have zero tolerance drug and alcohol policies) attend as representatives of the school that serve beer and wine during the social hour. I know, I have been to many.

    I am reminded of the debates about drug testing back in the 80’s that led to all these zero tolerance policies. Advocates of such policies pointed to the potential harm that an inebriated worker could cause. Predictions of increased deaths to workplace accidents, law suits and other third party costs were bandied about. This, in my opinion, was when the authoritarians figured out that they can be far more successful in reigning in the behavior others that they don’t like by saying the person’s behavior is not just harmful to the person but imposes costs on innocent others. I am thoroughly amused at those claiming we must follow the science. When exactly did any scientific group conduct a longitudinal study of second hand smoke using a control group that never encountered cigarette smoke? There has never been one. All the data is correlational and excludes familial history, geography, other carcinogens etc. Does anyone see the parallels between attributing cancer deaths of non-smokers to second hand smoke and all deaths of persons testing positive for Covid-19 as a Covid-19 death? The death watch report from yesterday’s paper attributed the deaths of a 90 year old and an 80 year old at a nursing home to Covid- 19.

    From mandatory drug testing in the 80’s we went on to see prohibitions on smoking due to second hand smoke in the 90’s. We are now required to stay home or wear a mask when we leave the home so we don’t infect others even though we may not be infected ourselves. I wonder when we will embrace the one child policy of China to reduce greenhouse gasses ala Greta Thunberg . She seems to think we are imposing costs on her and other young people. It seems to me that a one child policy is truly an existential threat to humans.

    I quit smoking a year and a half years ago but probably would have much earlier had the authoritarians left me alone. I quit primarily because I was tired of financing the activities of authoritarians in Annapolis.

  10. Again, I feel badly for people who are not accustomed to switching from home behavior to workplace behavior while still in the confines of their home. People need to be given second and even third chances when they don’t get it quite right. I’ve been working for a completely virtual company for over 4 years. We operate solely using Zoom/Slack/Google Suites, etc. My company is very laid back and while drinking during the work day would not be allowed, it’s a running joke that the COO keeps boxed wine under her desk. I’m often in a t-shirt and ball cap for meetings. One director showed up with soaking wet hair to a meeting because she had just gotten out of the shower. No one cared. We’re chill that way. However, the rules are very clear when Zooming with a client. Your work space must be neat and well lit. You must be dressed professionally from the waist up. You must be on camera; no hiding behind a headshot or avatar. But that’s the work day. I’ve been “pinged” by my boss after hours because she needed something. I answered with “of course but I’m having a glass of wine, if that’s o.k.”. And of course it was o.k.

    • This was the other correct take in this thread,

      Like I said above, working from home is new to most people, so a certain amount of forgiveness ought to be given, but the fact of the matter is that swigging a beer on a Zoom board meeting is not professional, and needed to be addressed *somehow*. I think Jack’s position requires you to forget that you’re performing a work activity.

      I’m also unpersuaded by the idea that because it’s your house, you have carte blanche to do whatever you would normally do at home while on camera with your colleagues. As I said above, I routinely have sexual relations in my home, I have serious doubts that having sex while participating in a Zoom meeting would be acceptable. I also play videogames, listen to angry music and could in theory smoke completely legal Canadian cannabis, none of which is even close to professional or acceptable on a call.

      Your employer might not be renting your house, but they are paying you, and whether you are working in the office, or from home, your employer has a basic expectation that, for instance, you won’t drink on the job. I don’t get what’s particularly confusing about that.

      • I agree with you. In our company, what is expected is clearly laid out. If I am appearing on camera with a client I must be professionally dressed from the waist up, my office space must be neat, my face must be well lit. If a new employee were to not get this quite right, they would be virtually pulled aside and reminded of what is expected.

        The other day, I was in an internal meeting, on camera. FedEx showed up at my door. I exclaimed to others in the meeting “Oh! I’ve been waiting for this package for weeks!” and I got up and went to my front door. No one batted an eye.

        Last Friday, I was part of a Facebook Live presentation (in other words, public facing); during which my dog decided to spray diarrhea all over the living room floor. I sat there, professionally dressed and well lit and continued to smile. No one knew what was really happening in my home.

        And by the way, I wanna party at your house.

  11. IMO, Akers does have good taste!

    Speaking from ding nigh half a century of…um…experience in the field, Cerveza Pacífico Clara (AKA Pacífico) is a DAMN fine pilsner!

    I first tried it in 1987 on the magnificent Pacific Ocean beaches of Mazatlán, where it’s brewed, and was immediately and at once, smitten.

    Been a while since I’ve had any. Last time was a few years back at one of the BYOB F*ck Winter parties for which WES is well known; I believe I’ll pick some up later today.

        • If you don’t mind my asking, which county?

          Our figurative “second home” is in Iron County, ~ 13 miles/21 kms due west of Hurley, of Hayward, Hurley, and HELL fame.

          Fellers up that way (north of Hwy 70), even them there fancy ones, generally drink for distance, if you know what I mean; an…um…approach that is not economically well-served by imports.

          • Burnett County, but we ride snowmobile at least once a year in Iron County.
            We’re actually ON Hwy 70, State Road 70 to the locals. And yes, economy is an important factor in selecting adult beverages in this area.

              • We’re fond of saying “north of 8” as well. Folks in far south Wisconsin typically say it with a hint (or more) of condescension, but say it with a hint (or more) of pride. North of 8 is the place to be for outdoor activities, small towns, and distant neighbors.

                • Absolutely. It’s beautiful up there! But then I consider all of Wisconsin to be God’s country. Well, maybe except for US 10. My kid is in school in Appleton and good grief that’s a long, unappealing ride. Fun fact: if you’re buying Leinie’s outside of NW Wisconsin, it was probably brewed in Atlanta by Miller/Coors. You want Chippewa brewed with Chippewa water you have to stick close to home.

                  • My parents still live in Chippewa, so we get our beer at the brewery like God intended. We also get our candy from the candy store in town, and our ice cream from Olson’s. If you get up to Siren though, try the ice cream at Firefly, it’s arguably better.
                    I mentally end Wisconsin at Hwy 10. I’ve gone past that great divide, but never willingly.

                • Ah; Nort (sic) of 8….

                  When we’re heading north, that’s where (just north of Tomahawk) U.S. Hwy 51 funnels down to two lanes and you have to dial ‘er down from Warp Speed.

                  It was also where out dear departed Golden Girl (Hurley) would get noticeably antsy because, smelling the piney, lake country air, she knew it wouldn’t be too long til she could go swimmy all day long.

            • I have clients in Grantsburg.

              My lovely and long suffering wife’s family (Mother’s side) are Iron County denizens dating back 5 generations.

              Her maternal Grandfather wrote a book (Calked Boots And Cant Hooks) about the area timber industry.

              We were married in the old Iron County Court House. Considering the area’s…um..colorful past, and all of what must have passed through that room, and that bench, heck, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

            • Please do; many a truth is spoken in quip, am I right?

              You’re just west of the state line in the Land Of 10000 Lakes, aren’t you.

              Many folks think of The Cities as WAY Up Dere; they’re in southern MN, with a WHOLE LOT of wide open space up north.

              If there is, which I’ve found to be true, a drinking culture in WESconsin, skewing toward colder climes in a northerly direction, I’d have to think the same might exist in MN; yes?

        • Nice to meet you, Michelle! I’m in St. Croix county; formerly of Chippewa County – home of Leinie’s. In fact, my kids went to school with Leinenkugels.

      • Beer comes in six-packs?

        We’re ~ 22 miles/35.4056 kms (as the crow flies) from New Glarus Brewing Company.

        If you ever find yourself ~ 250 miles/394.289 kms down river in Crawford County, pay a visit to the Driftless Brewing Company, in Soldiers Grove on the mighty Kickapoo, and sample some of the appropriately named (5 % ABV!) The Local Buzz, a positively marvelous Honey Ale.

        Factoring in the credentials listed above, IMO no Barley Pop looks (or tastes) better when held to the early evening sun in a frosted mug after a long afternoon of pulling and planting.

        While they do sell it in six-packs, I prefer the 22 oz/651 ml Bombers; fewer trips to the fridge…

  12. During the last 30-minutes of our final class session this semester (a weekly 2-1/2 hour seminar), I invited students to participate in a virtual happy hour – BYOB – leaded or unleaded. We spent 30 minutes discussing what worked and what didn’t during the course – and, as usual, they provided many insightful comments.

    All of the students were seniors who would be graduating in a couple of weeks and, while I wouldn’t have brought beer to the classroom, I figured that they’d appreciate the opportunity to “socialize” with their classmates. However, to protect myself against any lurking Karens, I bounced the idea off a couple of colleagues and was pleased to learn that they (and even some of the associate deans) were doing the same thing in their classes.

  13. What do we say when Elizabeth I’m gonna get me a beer Warren drinks a beer. She is technically on a job when campaigning.

    Not that long ago the three martini lunch was the norm. I’m not suggesting we should go back to that but getting riled up about this says alot about how the self righteous are seeking to control others behavior. This new religion is not my cup of tea.

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