I recently read an article about a woman in South Carolina (quite the nanny state, it’s turning out) who was arrested for swearing in public. The gist of the tale was that someone had called police because there were children present to hear the offending language. This caused me some concern, since I have a tendency towards colourful language, and I scrolled down to the comments section to see whether the public was in support of the arrest or against it. To my relief, most were staunchly anti, but there was one pearl-clutcher in support of the police, who posted a comment along the lines of there being “no excuse” for such language.

I thought it would be funny to respond to her with a “f*** you,” and even went so far as to type it, but right before hitting “post” I thought better of it. What if someone saw it and associated my name with Workopolis or one of the other sites I work for? What if someone I work for came across it and decided they didn’t want the sort of person who goes around swearing at people on the internet associated with their brand. With a sigh, I erased the post.

I bet operatic bass Valerian Ruminski wishes he’d taken a moment to do a similar assessment before putting a recent post on Facebook.

The CBC reports that Ottawa’s Opera Lyra has terminated Ruminski’s contract, just two weeks before he was to play Sacristan in Puccini’s Tosca.  

Ruminski posted a picture he had taken of a man on the bus with long, jewel-encrusted fingernails. He captioned the picture, in which the individual’s face is clearly visible, “Look at the stupid nails this moron had on while taking the bus in Ottawa. I guess he needed diamond studded nails to make up for his face.” He then went on a long, nasty, rant about the man’s deficiencies, stating that he had been “forced” to pass judgment.

Screenshots of the post circulated on social media and Opera Lyra has since let Ruminski, who has worked for them for nine years, go.

Ruminski issued the following apology:

    My statement was hurtful and I have realized that what I have said was cruel and not in keeping with the way I generally feel about people and have interacted with people in the past. It was an unfortunate spur of the moment thoughtless comment that I need not have said and should not have said. I apologize and regret any harm this has caused to any and all parties affected by my comments.”

But it was too late.

I support the opera’s decision – because Ruminski’s remarks were cruel, and because he posted a picture of the man’s face, making him identifiable – but a friend has commented that Ruminski should be allowed to post whatever he wants on his personal Facebook page.

I don’t know. Ruminski is a public figure, known to be associated with Opera Lyra. I am also a name publicly associated with Workopolis. As such, there’s probably a reasonable expectation that we comport ourselves at a certain level of decency (and not swear at strangers online, for example).

I asked my boss’s boss, Workopolis Marketing Director Nicole Knowlton, what she would do if I did something similar. She said, “I would speak to you once and if you did it again, I would let you go.”

It’s true that most people are a little more behind the scenes. So, if you’re not publicly associated with a brand, should you be able to conduct yourself any way you want on your own time and in your own – even virtual – space?

At the moment, that’s up to each individual employer. And the question is a relatively new one. But Nicole also said something very important. She said, “What he did was mean and thoughtless. Something like that would make me question your character and whether I want you to be associated with the company.”

And there’s the rub. Even if you are mean-spirited, reactionary jerk, that’s a side of yourself you’re probably better off to hide from the people you work for.

I think you should let this story be a lesson to you.

What do you think? Should people be let go from their jobs over things they post on their own personal social media accounts?

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