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Emergency Dispatcher Fired For Facebook Drug Joke 631

Posted by kdawson
from the thin-pretense dept.
kaptink writes "Dana Kuchler, a 21-year veteran of the West Allis Dispatch Department, was fired from her job for making jokes on her Facebook page about taking drugs. She appealed to an arbitrator, claiming the Facebook post was a joke, pointing out she had written 'ha' in it, and noting that urine and hair samples tested negative for drugs. The arbitrator said she should be entitled to go back to work after a 30-day suspension, but the City of West Allis complained that was not appropriate. Is posting bad jokes on Facebook a justifiable reason to give someone the boot?"
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Emergency Dispatcher Fired For Facebook Drug Joke

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  • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:15AM (#32332882)

    Probably not, but by the time it's sorted she'll be bankrupt

    Of course it's justifiable -- we live in the age of corporate fear. There's no longer a need for anything to actually happen -- all that's required is for a corp to assert "fear of [whatever]" (litigation, disparagement of business, loss of competitive advantage) for them to justify any extension of control over their employees.

    Just look at the way the bastards try to intrude into your home by telling you you'll be fired if your housemate doesn't stop smoking within 90 days. Why??? -- "fear of increased insurance costs".

    Craven sons of bitches.

  • by Third Position (1725934) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:22AM (#32332916)

    True enough. Just because you're free to say anything you want, doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to spout off without discretion.

  • by golodh (893453) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:33AM (#32332972)
    Speaking with a former President: it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

    If you take the question as: "Is posting snarky content on Facebook about evading drugs testing sufficient grounds to disqualify you from your job, and hence set you up for justifiable dismissal?", the answer is obviously: "No.".

    If you take the question as: "Is posting snarky content on Facebook about evading drugs testing on part of an emergency dispatcher sufficient ground to disqualify said dispatcher from her job", the answer would shift to: "Probably not".

    However, if you were to take the question as: "Suppose you are a manager in charge of emergency services. Suppose you catch one of your employees, in a fairly critical position too, writing snarky stuff on Facebook about evading drugs testing. Is that a risk to you? Would it make YOU look bad if she did anything wrong in her job (however unrelated to actual substance abuse)?", then the answer is a definite: "Yes". For that reason said manager will face the choice of (a) actually looking into the matter, forming a personal judgement, and exposing himself and his career tot potential damage just to be fair to an employee or (b) simply firing her and getting a replacement. Which option do you think would make more sense from a CYA perspective and would also make said manager look good, competent, ruthless, and dedicated?

    There are no bonus points for coming up with answer (b). So that particular dispatcher is hereby dispatched. Such is the power of new electronic media, classical all-American CYA considerations, and age-old guilt-by-association thinking.

  • Re:no (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cryacin (657549) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:35AM (#32332986)

    Just look at the way the bastards try to intrude into your home by telling you you'll be fired if your housemate doesn't stop smoking within 90 days.

    Please provide citation. I'm quite interested in that one.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@noSPam.hackish.org> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:51AM (#32333060)

    In this case, the City of West Allis is a "government", not a "business", and its emergency dispatchers are government employees, not private employees in some sort of dispatching industry. The First Amendment has been held to apply to state and local governments since 1925 [wikipedia.org], and applies to some extent even when the government is acting as employer [umkc.edu].

  • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:16AM (#32333182)
    The article is pretty vague, just mentions she claimed to be addicted to a few prescription meds amoungst other things. Problem is, is that all she did? Or did she make a comment like that while attached to a photo of her in her city employee work uniform while holding some prescription bottles? If it's just the joke a didn't really show what her job was then I don't see why she was fired. If she made that joke while making it obvious that she works for the city then its a whole other can of worms. Like any job, when your in your uniform you are considered a reflection of your company and must always act it, and if she was in uniform (in a picture) with this joke then she is a very poor reflection of her job and discipline actions should very well be expected. Just like in other job.
  • by White Flame (1074973) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:22AM (#32333212)

    Then their job contract should specify public-image requirements for their behavior outside of their on-the-clock hours. Let's see how well that goes over.

  • by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:31AM (#32333258)

    Are my first-amendment rights applicable?

    No, as they protect you from the government, not from private entities.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:59AM (#32333374)

    So I assume she was getting paid for those 16 hours of every weekday (and 48 hours of weekends every week) where she was required to abide by some company "behaviour code"?

    Unfortunately the idiot employer may think so. May depend on whether the position is covered by a union contract (sounds like not) or is exempt.

    I worked for a company for near 30 years where union workers got OT. Exempt employees -- including me, as a programmer -- recorded and took comp time for extra hours worked.

    After being outsourced to a subsidiary of IBM (but still working at the same desks, in the same building, with the same people -- just a different company name on the paycheck), we were informed IBM policy was that our (unchanged) salary was to be considered as compensation for 24/7 availability -- no comp time to be assumed.

    However, it was to be taken for granted that "If you do extensive, off-normal-hours work, 'your manager will notice' and give you 'management-directed time off'."

    Pricks.

  • by TOGSolid (1412915) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:15AM (#32333434)
    Yep, the city made out like a bandit and got a convenient excuse.

    This also happens to be exactly why I keep my Facebook free of anyone from work. People seem to think that they need to "friend" anyone they met even briefly and then wonder why it gets them into trouble. You can't be fired for things you said on your Facebook page if your page is set to private and nobody from work can read it. It's that damned simple.
  • by FreeUser (11483) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:46AM (#32333552)

    You know, we wouldn't even have this problem if we didn't try to prohibit Americans from so many things...

    We brought this on ourselves with our own rhetoric (not just right-wing religious crap that results in things like the war on drugs, legalized discrimination against gays, and a steady erosion in women's rights, but right-wing libertarian rhetoric about the supremacy of the market for solving all the world's ills and making businesses more powerful than democratically elected governments, and left-wing political correctness that had people fired for speaking controversially about certain topics).

    Indeed, we wouldn't have this particular problem if people weren't propagating moronic notions of "property rights" trumping every other constitutional right, including that of free speech (and freedom of association). If freedom of speech applied, as it was intended, everywhere, for everyone, then you couldn't be fired for saying something stupid, be it to your colleagues, your flatmate, your co-workers (outside of business hours), or whoever, in whatever medium.

    But we've lost track of that--now people, especially in the United States, promote the notion that "speech has consequences", which is true, but not the way they mean, and not like this. Getting fired for bad jokes is not a "natural consequence" of telling bad jokes any more than landing in prison for saying something the government (or a powerful business leader with friends in government) doesn't like. Both are an artifice to suppress speech and, in this particular case, an excuse to replace one person with seniority with someone else who is no doubt cheaper and more compliant. Scare people into compliance AND replace an experienced worker with a newbie who will work for peanuts: two birds, one stone.

    Thanks to libertarian group-think, we are no longer citizens with constitutional freedoms and rights, we are merely peasants, living and eating at the sufferance of our corporate masters. And you know what? Most of us are too busy arguing vehemently for the rights of our masters to do whatever they want in the name of "it's their property, so no 'government' (read: constitutional) constraint should ever apply. Ridiculous, but the country is lousy with people who think exactly that, consequences be damned.

    "Love is hate", "no is yes", "war is peace", and we live in a free society. Just so long as you don't actually try to exercize those freedoms against the wishes of your corporate master.

  • by Shoe Puppet (1557239) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:37AM (#32333776)

    That's just because your constitution is broken. Other constitutions are better at protecting your rights, with formulations like "Every person shall have the right to...", "Freedom ...shall be inviolable." (Germany) or "The Republic recognises the right..." (Italy)

  • by jonadab (583620) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:42AM (#32333790) Homepage Journal
    > This also happens to be exactly why I keep my Facebook free of anyone from work.

    I try to minimize *any* contact with my coworkers outside of work, for several reasons.

    In the first place, spending non-work time in contact with my coworkers would risk the development of personal friendships with some of them more than others, which would create a conflict of interests, opening up the door for unintentional favoritism, compromising my ability to perform my job duties objectively and putting me in a difficult position ethically. I realize it's not officially against (most employers') policy to be friends with a coworker (to *date* coworkers, of course, is almost universally frowned upon, but mere friendships are usually tolerated), but it's still not a good idea.

    Additionally, I already spend an entire shift with these people five days a week. Frankly, that's significantly more time than I spend with my closest friends. Isn't that enough?
  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:51AM (#32333826)

    The sad truth is that we're all guilty of this regime where jokes are not acceptable anymore. We all demanded 100% security. Nobody protested after 9/11 (because that would be unpatriotic). Even on the other side of the oceans, nobody protested against the crazy screams for more security.

    So... Try joking to a security officer at an airport that you had a love explosivion last night with your girlfriend. Merely mentioning half the word "explo..." will make you miss your flight.
    We all demanded security - so, we got it.

    Obviously, I think that people should use their brains - brains capable if interpreting phrases rather than only single words. Especially if that person is your boss, someone who should know you and who should be able to find a few seconds to properly think about the proper reaction.

  • by jonadab (583620) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:57AM (#32333864) Homepage Journal
    Wait, do you mean *on the job* freedom of speech, or only when you go home?

    If the former, that would certainly change the nature of *my* job in fundamental ways.

    I work at a public library. At work (and in the presence of the public), I'm not supposed to express an opinion on basically *anything* (well, anything of substance; I can talk about the weather). Religion, politics, history, education, science, you name it. This goes to extremes in my line of work. When a patron asks me for books on how the fall of Rome resulted in the creation of angels (yes, this is a real example), I'm supposed to try to help them find books on that, without comment. In practice this means books on angels and books on the history of Rome. I know very well that the books on the history of Rome won't say anything about the creation of angels and the books on angels won't say anything about the fall of Rome, but I cannot *tell* the patron this. I have to keep a straight face while I help them find the books.

    So my job would be pretty radically different if on-the-job free speech were legally mandatory.
  • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by saider (177166) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:02AM (#32333888)

    My insurance company made us sign an affidavit that all covered persons were non-smokers. If we did not sign they would increase our employee premium by 40%.

  • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:48AM (#32334176)

    You're right. As much as I hate what's happened to her, this can't be a black & white situation.

    What if an employee at an abortion clinic spends her evenings and weekends attending anti-abortion rallies? What if she spends her time organizing those sorts of rallies?
    What if a secret service agent assigned to keeping the President alive spends his personal time popping off about how much he hates the President?

    Two examples. Extremes, yes. But they show that there are circumstances where private actions are so radically inappropriate for an employee that continued employment is... inadvisable. I'm not saying her case is one of those, but as much as it rubs me the wrong way, I can see the shape of the argument behind her dismissal.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:30AM (#32334508)

    I realize it's not officially against (most employers') policy to be friends with a coworker (to *date* coworkers, of course, is almost universally frowned upon, but mere friendships are usually tolerated), but it's still not a good idea.

    HR (well, actually the Legal dept) frowns on office dating, but management loves having subordinates getting married to each other. It's so much harder to leave a company if you have to leave your other half behind or have to leave in pairs.

  • by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:48AM (#32334644)

    The GP isn't describing the perfect situation. The GP is describing the current situation. And that is, anything and everything you put on the internet becomes instantly indexable, instantly accessible knowledge for everyone--friend, foe, employer, future husband/wife, children, etc.

    To deny that this is the case is to deny reality.

    Funny, you just reminded of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and a few other places

    Well, gee, maybe that's because those places aren't nearly so different from us as we'd like to pretend on television. Quit deluding yourself.

  • Re:no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by silentcoder (1241496) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:53AM (#32334686) Homepage

    >How is it unjust? If you join the military (at least in the US), you did so voluntarily. You chose, of your own free will, to sign
    >over your time (and if need be, your health and/or life) to the military to be used as the leadership sees fit.

    Idiots deserve justice too.
    Anyway your argument is false. When there is a draft (you've had them, we've had them) we don't exclude draftees from military law on the ground that the did NOT volunteer but were FORCED to become soldiers and give up their freedom of thought at risk of going to jail instead. Volunteering has nothing to do with it.
    How many people signed up for two years and are on their 5th tour ? How come you are bound to your side of the contract at pain of criminal proceedings but the government faces no penalty at all if they repeatedly and unilaterally change THEIR side of it ?

    Sorry, military justice is an oxymoron. There is a REASON we don't let the judges work for the cops - only in the military is this BASIC concept of independent oversight not considered important.

    >Part of being in the military means that you are on call all the time, and on the hook be called up at any moment and sent into >combat. Going and doing stupid things like getting in trouble with the law impairs your readiness to deploy, hence the additional >charges.

    Tell me... have you ever heard a recruitment officer say those words ? They talk about free college for serving your country, they never tell you about selling your entire soul, your individuality and being turned into a sort of robotic trigger pulling device. If a corporation's marketing is that far from reality - we sue them for fraud.

    >Don't like it? Don't sign up.

    I never have, never will - because I VALUE my RIGHT to wear long hair and say "Fuck you" to my boss and walk out if I'm not happy - and if I have to give those up to 'defend it' then I've lost. The only way to defend it for ANYBODY is to defend it for EVERYBODY. That means no more soldiers with brushcuts except the ones who like it that way. Try pulling that one off... NOW try having a military with a democracy - where a soldier who DID sign up can say "I'm sorry sir, but this war we are going to now is unjust and in good conscience if you make me go, I shall refuse to ever pull a trigger for I would rather BE shot by a man defending himself from an agressor than to be that agressor" - and get to walk away without any issues ?
    If my boss asks me to do something my conscience does not allow, then I can do that- AND I can become a whistleblower and ensure he loses his job. He never gets so much control over my life that I end up following terrible orders with glee -because he doesn't HAVE enough authority to make me hit the torture button (I assume you know the experiment I refer to).
    Giving anybody such authority is ALREADY unconscienable in my book.

    And don't tell me that such a military as I describe, where only volunteers show up for each BATTLE, where orders are followed only by those who agree - while others simply stay behind and where every soldier gets a say in what the battleplan will be cannot exist or work.
    My people had a military like that once. We fought Britain for our freedom - just like you. We beat them. They came back, for two years we beat them AGAIN. In the end the only way they could win was by killing 27 000 women and children, and shipping in soldiers till they outnumbered us more than 13 to 1.
    At 10 to 1 they were STILL losing - and this was the height of the British empire, that army was considered the largest and most powerful military on the planet, and we BEAT them and damn near beat them twice- WITHOUT any of the bullshit you are telling me we HAVE to have in a military.
    Did the peasant's revolt have drill sergeants ? Well they won right until they were betrayed by the king they followed.
    Did the Viking's follow orders ? But they were the most feared military force in the world for centuries.

    History says you are wrong.

    >And don't get m

  • by VickiM (920888) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @09:30AM (#32335128)
    I recall a recent story about a lab worker in California admitting to stealing and using drugs, and how all the cases that person worked on are now in danger of being brought up on appeal, and the probable criminals being released from jail because the lab technician could not be trusted. Isn't it possible that the dispatcher unit would need a zero-tolerance policy as well? If there is any hint of misconduct, a defendant will cling to that in court. It's the sort of liability a city can't afford to keep. That, and what would happen if this dispatcher unit had some unfortunate misses. Calls they thought were pranks or police units sent to the wrong place. The investigation the state performs after a complaint will likely find posts like this and wonder why the unit kept this woman on despite this.
  • by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @10:17AM (#32335798) Homepage Journal

    What needs to be pointed out here is that

    Your right to free speech does not mean that you are protected from the consequences of what you say.

    There is no question that Dana The (Ex-)Dispatcher had the right to publish her jokes on Face Book. That does not absolve her of the consequences of demonstrating that she is too stupid with respect to professional off duty behavior to continue to work for that police department.

    Maybe she can get a job with another police department that has lower standards.

  • by Mostly Harmless (48610) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .etep_ekim.> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @10:52AM (#32336262) Homepage

    The real stupid thing here is the idea that she should not be free to say what she wants.

    I think this is a case of "it depends." I think, for one, we need to come to a consensus on what sort of privacy you should be able to expect on a social networking site. Should you consider it private communication or public? And even if it is private, there are certain situations where it doesn't matter. If you work for the public and say or do something - in private or not - which puts into question your integrity or ability to perform your job, you should have no expectation of privacy unless that privacy is protected by law (e.g., attorney-client privilege). This counts doubly if you intentionally friend your boss or another employee and still post such comments.

    On the other hand, for example, if your boss was trawling the Web and finds your comments because Facebook has poor privacy practices, you communication should be protected.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @11:54AM (#32337128) Journal
    My sis-in-law is a law clerk at a federal court. She doesn't have on-the-job freedom of speech, in much the same way you don't, but she also explicitly does not have off-the-job freedom of speech in many ways: as a federal employee she is not allowed to put up political signs in her yard, for instance. (As a result, neither is my brother.) People have been fired from where she works for wearing shirts with political statements when they weren't at work. This is a result of the Hatch Act of 1939 [wikipedia.org] although it's not clear to me that it extends as far as her employers say it does.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @12:00PM (#32337188)

    Au contraire, it is blind trust in the goodness of others that destroys lives. Power hungry politicians, abusive police, and greedy scam artists are just a few of the people who all too willingly exploit that trust.

    Your trust is a valuable thing... give it sparingly, and only to those people (and organizations) who have earned it. There's nothing wrong with insisting on being able to verify that you are not being deceived, since in the end you are the person most responsible for looking out for your interests.

  • by aaandre (526056) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @01:03PM (#32337984)

    Except that it's not a straw on the back of the camel. It has nothing to do with the camel. The camel lied about a straw. There is no straw.

    If the government lies in order to fire an employee, that is an important story. Whoever made that decision and the ones supporting them have no integrity and are not worthy of trust.

  • by LanMan04 (790429) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @01:52PM (#32338752)

    as a federal employee she is not allowed to put up political signs in her yard, for instance

    Once upon a time I was a Fed, and that's not true, UNLESS you work for one of the super-secret agencies, but they have all kinds of looney-toons rules that don't apply to the other agencies.

    The Hatch Act DOES apply in some specific circumstances outside the job, but putting up a partisan sign in your yard is not one of them. That's OK (again, for "regular" Feds, not NSA/CIA/Secret Service folks).

    had to link due to stupid lameness filter [wikipedia.org]

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:40PM (#32342542) Journal
    In her case, she falls under the category of Administrative Law Judge, so gets placed in "agencies and employees prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity" which means she can not "campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections" from the wikipedia article we both linked, so: not so super-secret.

    But, again, it doesn't appear to me that this gives the people running the place the right to fire someone for wearing a political shirt while not at work, but I guess that sufficiently qualifies as engaging in partisan political activity that they felt they could get away with it.

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