Ask HR: Can I Be Suspended for Comments I Made at My Second Job?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP March 5, 2021
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Ask HR: Can I Be Suspended for Comments I Made at My Second Job?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I work for a city government, but I also run my own business as a podcaster. (I have a disclaimer on my website and all of my videos.) A co-worker heard something I said during one of my podcasts, assumed I was talking about them and complained to my employer. After being reprimanded by HR, I was suspended for five days without pay along with other disciplinary actions. Can they do that?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Thanks for writing. The short answer is: It depends. To know for sure, I would first determine what laws and company policies, if any, exist to help clarify whether your conduct warrants the disciplinary actions taken by your employer.

I'll ask this: Does your employer have a policy that forbids holding another job while working for them? If so, your podcast may be in violation. There could also be a separate policy prohibiting you from running a competing business. If your podcast falls into this category, your employer may have a case.

While I can't speak to what you said on your podcast, I would take a closer look at the content you shared and how you created the episode in question. If you used company time or equipment, or if you shared stories about what happens at work or disclosed proprietary information or intellectual property, this could very well put you in jeopardy. It all goes back to those critical policies your employer may have in place around these kinds of scenarios.

In some states, employers may not be able to discipline employees for lawful off-duty conduct. But if that's not the case, your employer may have the right to act, particularly if it affects the organization's brand. 

You also mentioned you were suspended without pay. It's important to note some states and cities have laws pertaining to suspension of work without pay. I strongly recommend reviewing your employee handbook or contacting the Department of Labor to see if any of these laws impact you.

If you're not in violation of any policy, employment agreement or contract, and you didn't discuss the company or the person as claimed, then you may be in the clear. This is especially true if your organization didn't complete a thorough and unbiased investigation to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. 

I hope this helps clarify some of your concerns—good luck!

 

I am venturing into a new career path in HR. I have an MBA, and I have performed some administrative and HR duties in my current and previous jobs. How do I make an easy transition without starting at the basic ground level, and how can I get recruiters and companies to notice me?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Transitioning to a new career path is never easy, and I applaud you for boldly making a change you feel will best suit you.

However, I don't believe you have to start from the basic ground level at all! Given your education and relevant job experience, you're well-positioned to make a successful transition to a career in HR.

I would start by taking an honest inventory of your knowledge, skills and abilities as they relate to HR jobs you're interested in. Then, take a close look at job descriptions for these positions. Make sure your resume reflects how your skills, education, abilities and past job experiences make you an asset for a particular role or team.

If you feel comfortable, have an open conversation with your people manager. Explain you are interested in having more HR-related responsibilities and ask if there are tasks you can take on to gain more experience in this area. You can further clarify why you're interested in HR and what functions are most appealing to you. Your employer may even be willing to cross-train you or connect you with a mentor on the HR team.

I would also consider taking a few HR courses and working toward a certification. To boost your network, consider joining your local HR professional chapter and attending its meetings.

You will get tools and resources to bolster your knowledge and help recruiters notice you and open your network so you can engage with other HR professionals in the area—leading to potential new opportunities and job offers.

Best of luck in your career transition!

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