Hydro One Was Wrong to Fire Hooligan Employee

A substantial minority of men are capable of boorish, sexist behaviour in public. A world in which all such men were unemployed would not be a better world.

By now many of you will have seen the video that led Hydro One to fire one of its employees. The government-owned electricity distribution company fired engineer Shawn Simoes after he and friends shouted vulgarities at a female news reporter during a live broadcast at a soccer match in Toronto.

This much is clear: what Simoes did was boorish, and offensive. The reporter who was the target of their abuse should not have to put up with that sort of thing — nor should any other woman. What’s less clear is whether his employer is ethically justified in firing him for it. And as much as I hate to say it, I think the answer is no. I’m not going to defend the man’s actions, which are indefensible. Drunkenness is a factor, but not a defence. But just as there is a difference between what is unethical and what is illegal, there is a difference between what is boorish and offensive and what you should be fired for.

Recall the case of Ray Rice, the NFL player who was caught on video knocking his fiancee unconscious. Nothing about this behaviour implied any lack of ability to do his job, indeed to do it very well. But Rice’s behaviour was good grounds for dismissal because, as a football player, he’s a brand ambassador and is supposed to be able to serve as a hero for kids. And his behaviour made him terrible at both. Or compare the case of Jian Ghomeshi, fired by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation after he was accused, by a number of women, of various forms of abuse and assault. This, too, was good grounds for dismissal. After all, in addition to being a brand ambassador, Ghomeshi needed to be able to work closely with female co-workers, something no one would reasonably trust him to do in the wake of such serious and credible allegations.

Simoes’ case is quite different. He wasn’t wearing a Hydro One t-shirt or anything. (The fact that he was a Hydro One employee apparently took considerable online sleuthing.) And it’s not at all clear that his boorish behaviour implies a threat to his female co-workers. Is there a pattern here? Perhaps his supervisor has insight into that.

Hydro One says Simoes violated the company’s code of conduct. But the relevant section of the company’s Code merely says “We treat employees and persons with whom we do business with dignity and respect. Hydro One does not tolerate harassment or discrimination.” It’s a stretch to think that that applies to all employees, all of the time, including when they’re off the job.

There are two key reasons to worry about the firing. One is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The behaviour was very bad, yes, but not physically dangerous and it doesn’t imply an inability, on Simoes’ part, to do his job. Also, there’s reason to worry about the consequences. We don’t know whether Simoes has dependents, but what if he did? It’s bad enough, as a kid, to have a dad seen behaving like that. It’s even worse when Dad loses his job and can’t afford to support you anymore.

The other reason to worry about the firing is that the move implies that employers own you, and your behaviour, 24 hours a day. It implies that there’s no private sphere. After all, there are all kinds of things that you could do, off the job, that might displease your employer. Should they all be firing offences? What if you were filmed taking part in an illegal environmental protest? What if you were spotted smoking marijuana in the park? That’s illegal in many jurisdictions. What if you were spotted taking part in your local Gay Pride parade? That’s legal in most places, but what if your employer is super conservative? It’s simply not healthy for employers to be allowed to make those kinds of calls about off-the-job behaviour.

So I think Hydro One made the wrong call in firing Simoes. We should not tolerate sexual harassment, in public or at work. But unwillingness to tolerate it means we should be ready and willing to speak up against it, even to do so quite aggressively. It doesn’t mean that our employers should get to hand out punishments for behaviour that happens off the clock.

14 comments so far

  1. Bill on

    Well, I don’t know exactly what Hydro One’s code of conduct says however I am sure I know the gist of it. He harassed a reporter *in her workplace* which would be a violation. Usually a sero tolerance one.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Bill, I quoted the Code of Conduct. It says “We treat employees and persons with whom we do business with dignity and respect.” It doesn’t say anything about how employees treat other people in THEIR workplaces, while the employee is off the job.

  2. Sahifa on

    Chris, your analysis of this is somewhat illogical.

    “We don’t know whether Simoes has dependents, but what if he did? It’s bad enough, as a kid, to have a dad seen behaving like that. It’s even worse when Dad loses his job and can’t afford to support you anymore.” Well, murders have children too I’m sure. Should they not be punished because they may have dependents, who won’t be supported because the murdering parent can’t afford to support them anymore?

    “Simoes’ case is quite different… And it’s not at all clear that his boorish behaviour implies a threat to his female co-workers.” Really? Imagine yourself as a female colleague of his who has to work with him every day, may be even FOR him, all the while knowing just how vile his view point of women is and how not hesitant he is to share that vile viewpoint with an entire television audience. Still think a female co-worker would not find his “boorish behaviour” threatening?

    “There are two key reasons to worry about the firing. One is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The behaviour was very bad, yes, but not physically dangerous…” So should behaviour that is only “physically” dangerous be just cause for firing? Think carefully, as many dangerous behaviours, such as harassment, sexual harassment, stalking, bullying, etc. are not necessarily “physically” dangerous, but can have very serious consequences all the same.

    “The other reason to worry about the firing is that the move implies that employers own you, and your behaviour, 24 hours a day. It implies that there’s no private sphere.” Your argument doesn’t even apply in this case. The guy CHOSE to sexually harass the reporter on TELEVISION. I’m sure it’s fair to say that he stepped out of any “private sphere” himself when he made the choice to do what he did. You’re absolutely right about one thing though: “Drunkenness is…..not a defence.”

    “We should not tolerate sexual harassment, in public or at work. But unwillingness to tolerate it means we should be ready and willing to speak up against it, even to do so quite aggressively.” Well, Hydro One did just that. It exhibited great social responsibility by not tolerating sexual harassment in public and did so aggressively when it fired the culprit.

    Lastly, as to “What’s less clear is whether his employer is ethically justified in firing him for it.”, the answer is no, it is not LESS clear, it is VERY VERY CLEAR that the employer is ethically justified in firing this guy for what he did. Most of us don’t exist in a vacuum or in the theoretical realms of academia. Out here in the real world, where actual actions do and should have actual consequences, there is no ambiguity as to whether his firing was an ethical act or not.

    I sincerely hope you let my comment remain posted.

  3. Darin on

    I have to agree with the other commenters that I think you’ve got this one wrong. I’ll point out that your analogy to taking part it a Gay Pride parade is also flawed. Firing someone for being gay is a violation of basic human rights. I think that most people recognize that simply being gay should have no impact on job performance or one’s ability to interact with co-workers. Further even if there was a problem with co-workers, it is (usually) not the gay individual, but the work environment that is at fault. That is to say that other employees are probably intolerant of the gay individual’s lifestyle.

    In Simoes’ case, his behaviour could have a significant effect on this ability to work with others at Hydro One, especially female employees. It is Hydro One’s responsibility to maintain a safe work environment for all its employees and firing Simoes is not inappropriate in that regard.

    You may be confusing who is the victim in these two scenarios. In the case of an employee fired for being gay, they are being victimized by an intolerant boss. In Simoes’ case he is not the victim, but the perpetrator of harassment towards a woman. It is because he was the perpetrator that led to him being fired.

  4. Todd on

    “It implies that there’s no private sphere. ”

    A live television camera is by its very nature in the public sphere. This isn’t about private behaviour that was some how made public or even semi-public behaviour that his employer was alerted to. In this instance, he willfully (and rather woefully) chose to publicize his idiocy by approaching the reporter with a microphone and camera in hand. See ya.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      I clearly meant “private” vis-a-vis one’s employer. The implication is that one is on the job 24/7. This guy was out in public, yes, but not on the job and not representing his employer. Does your employer own you all the time?

  5. Kostya on

    I find another one thing in which I am particular interested.
    I belive that reporter behaviour was provocative one and instead of levaing that drund bunch of men alone, she continued this conversation (what for? what she expected to hear?… Sinderella story from drunken men…).
    Is it ethically to provoke drunken people? Topic cound be different, depending on the interest of interviewers, BUT evolvement of the plot was much more facinating for that reporter…

    Under certain circumstances a piece of sxxxt may be extracted from everyone/

  6. Tracy I on

    More people should lose their jobs for acting like misogynist jerks and trying to justify sexual harassment as funny.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      It’s hard to imagine what theory of punishment would match that punishment with that crime.

  7. C Huaki on

    I agree with the decision to terminate Simoes employment however the discrepancy for me is whether this decision was both ethical and legal.

    The key area of support regarding this decision at the onset is that Simoes works for a government owned company. Government employees operate within a context of the “Justice System” whereby they are representative of the national core values and are subjected to operating within the law.
    Government employees either directly or indirectly (contracted) are responsible for conducting themselves within the legal parameters of the national norms.

    The culture of an organisation working for the Government is analysed and monitored in terms of every action, behaviour, thought and idea which accepts less autonomy.

    All companies, organisations or institutions that choose to participate in the government sector contracting environment are all subject to these conditions.

    Government external contractors are observed and scrutinized more closely based on the sheer nature of the contracts with current and future contracts being awarded based on Company reputation.
    The reference to whether Simoes has dependents is irrelevant in this instance.

    Simoes personal annual salary of $106,510 last year indicates that his lifestyle and standard of living is above average and therefore expectation would be that his behaviour be equivalent.

    The argument that he has a family or is a family man should have ensured that he as an individual, main income earner and provider for his family protected his family as opposed to being led by his friends into a derogatory situation with a female reporter on live television.

    Misconduct
    Is this act considered to be serious misconduct and enough to be dismissed?

    Hydro One principle states “to be successful we must continue to earn trust and confidence of our customers and stakeholders”.
    According to the companies Code of Business Conduct documentation under Integrity it states, (pg 6)

    • “Conduct business lawfully and ethically establishing honest dealings in all relationships and expecting the same of those with whom we have business relationships with”.

    • Comply with applicable laws…..

    • Avoid conflicts of interest between their personal interests and their role …..

    Under Harassment it also states that “Hydro One does not tolerate harassment and discrimination”. Similarly we do not tolerate any behaviors that promote violence in the workplace.

    The Government is a major stakeholder for Hydro One and this act did not involve physical violence which would warrant instance dismissal based on their zero tolerance for violence however, this act involved verbal abuse which does not encapsulate trust and confidence which is one of the companies guiding principles.

    Simoes actions could be classified as both a conflict between his personal interests in this case football and his role. This act reflects discrimination against women personal beliefs on public television and also harassment of the reporter by waiting around for her to make their announcement on television. Was this coerced? I think no, was this premeditated I think yes!

    The act of verbally abusing someone whether they be known or unknown to the person according to the New Zealand Ministry of Health “Psychological or emotional abuse – includes verbal abuse”, it is the behaviour or the act that is questionable and requires disciplinary procedures not when the act was conducted.

    Punishment
    In terms of Hydro One’s decision we must take into account the negative impacts or withdraw from their major Government stakeholder. I agree the act was appalling however this mistake justifies dismissal however in this instance there is too much room for people to counter act the accusation.

    In terms of if the misconduct matches the punishment the question is whether a thorough investigation was undertaken prior to the decision to dismiss was finalised. Was Simoes subjected to a fair and adequate performance management process based on the Hydro One Human Resources internal disciplinary process and procedures? Or was he just merely dismissed due to the negative publicity.

    Some bloggers have argued for and against the decision that Simoes could have been treated more fairly and some could argue that there could have been a less severe penalty for example Simoes could have made a public apology to the reporter on the news.

    Another issue is does the severity of the punishment consistent with Simoes friends that were also liable for the disturbance.
    From the video footage played it appears that Simoes thought this was a joking situation and did not appear to take the reporter seriously therefore;

    c) Did Simoes get offered any counselling services or psychological assessments?
    Simoes could have been acting under undue stress situation and could have been emotional unstable due to personal reasons at the time of the incident.

    d) Did Simoes get the opportunity to input in the punishment decision and discussions around the severity of the punishment?

    According to Trevion and Ball (1992) utilising constructive processes as those detailed above and the consequentialist system of punishment in the decision making process can alleviate negative publicity and make the consequences more acceptable to both parties.

    The consequentialist view looks to the forward planning of the Company and presumes that the punishment is effective to eliminate and deter other employees or company representatives from entering into this type of behaviour in the future.

    Conclusion
    From a business perspective Hydro One is justified in their decision to dismiss Simoes if this had not have been done then this may have affected future multi-million dollar contracts with Government.

    This ruling demonstrates the importance of following the code of conduct within an organisation during work hours or not.

    However this was a public event which is not covered within the Hydro One “Code of Conduct”. Does this mean that anyone and everyone acting illegally in public or on television will be fired too? Therefore from this judgement the moral dilemma and implications of such a decision is questionable.

  8. Heather on

    Hello, I am a sophomore at a University in Springfield, MO currently enrolled in an Ethics in Human Communication class. This post correlates with some things we have been discussing in class. After reading this post, I have a few comments to add myself. While the man’s behavior was indeed wrong and uncalled for and as some may say, unethical, I do not believe that the man should have been fired. I could see why others may disagree with me, but, I will share with you why I think this way. In the textbook we are using in class, we have talked about different perspectives people use when deciding what is ethical and unethical (Ethics in Human Communication). From a dialogical perspective, I would say that it is more unethical for them to fire this man for the reasons that they did. They listed in the code of conduct, “We treat employees and persons with whom we do business with dignity and respect. Hydro One does not tolerate harassment or discrimination.” However, this woman was not someone the Hydro One employee was doing business with, and he was not on the job at the time of the incident. Since it also states that the man was not wearing anything in affiliation with the company, I also feel that it could have been something a lot less minor than a permanent expulsion from a company. I could understand some sort of punishment to make an example to the other employers of Hydro One, however, I feel it is unethical to fire this man for the reasons he was fired. I in no way am supporting his actions, because I too agree that they were very wrong. I do, however, know that the man was on his free time, and do think there should be a separation from work and private life. Another thing to take into account would be how the female was reacting to the discussion between herself and the men. Let’s not forget that this man has this job so that he can afford to live. Not everyone knows the full situation, and for the majority of the people that will hear this story, will only hear what the media has to say about it.
    Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication. Long Grove: Waveland Press Inc,.

  9. […] off-the-job behaviour (See: Fired for Being a Jerk in Public and Should Rioters be Fired? and Hydro One Was Wrong to Fire Hooligan Employee). In particular, I’ve argued that while it is often satisfying to see some idiot fired over […]

  10. […] behaviour (See: Fired for Being a Jerk in Public and Should Rioters be Fired? and Hydro One Was Wrong to Fire Hooligan Employee). In particular, I’ve argued that while it is often satisfying to see some idiot fired over […]

  11. […] off-the-job behaviour (See: Fired for Being a Jerk in Public and Should Rioters be Fired? and Hydro One Was Wrong to Fire Hooligan Employee). In particular, I’ve argued that while it is often satisfying to see some idiot fired over their […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: