A social-media mistake is no reason to be fired

My strong suspicion is that we’d all be better off if Americans developed a broad aversion to people being fired for public missteps that have nothing to do with their jobs. That norm would do more good than bad even if you think some people deserve to be fired. Sure, I’d advise against taking flip photographs at a military cemetery. But whatever one thinks of that error in judgment, there’s no reason it should cause a woman to lose her job helping developmentally disabled adults.

An insensitive Halloween costume may justify a dirty look or scolding or even shaming. It should not deprive someone of their livelihood! It’s strange when you think about it, this notion of getting sacked as a general purpose punishment that an angry faction of the public demands of an at-first-reluctant employer. The target, the mob demands, should have to find a new job, or go on welfare, or move back in with their mom, or perhaps starve. It’s not even clear what’s meant to happen. Let’s rethink this.

People should usually feel ashamed of themselves for thinking, “I should get that stranger fired.” Companies should be left alone when one of their employees does something offensive while “off-duty.” Since some Internet trolls will break that rule, here’s another: Companies should expect to get more criticism for caving to the demands of trolls than for letting a briefly unpopular employee keep performing his or her duties, even amid an episode of obsessive public shaming.