If any employee called a manager at your company a “drunken lemur,” you might consider disciplinary action. But what if the comparison between managers and small, intoxicated animals is posted as a cartoon on a bulletin board, instead?
Insubordination or just a little anti-boss humor? Most times it’s not difficult for HR pros to differentiate between the two.
But an Iowa company didn’t see the humor in a Dilbert comic strip posted by an employee that compared managers to drunken lemurs.
The Catfish Bend Casino in Iowa was so upset, that it went to the trouble of watching surveillance video to identify the employee who put the comic on a bulletin board.
The culprit was Dave Steward, who quickly found himself fired.
Illustrator Scott Adams has come to Steward’s defense by basing a few days worth of Dilbert comics on the fired worker’s situation.
In one, regular character Wally was called into the pointy-haired boss’s office after he posted a comic.
“Do you think drunken lemurs are like managers?” the boss asked Wally.
“No. Some lemurs can hold their liquor,” Wally responded.
While Adams is defending Steward, the comic artist suggests workers stick to posting tamer strips.
How would you have handled this?
So, did the casino make a wise decision by firing Steward? Of course, that’s open to debate, but the results of Steward’s application for unemployment benefits may be one indication.
The casino challenged his claim, saying Steward had accused decision-makers of being drunken lemurs, and that should be considered misconduct. Steward said he was trying to cheer people up amidst layoffs at the casino.
The judge sided with Steward, saying posting the comic represented a “good-faith error in judgment,” not intentional misbehavior.
Aside from that, the law is on employers’ sides if they want to fire employees over something they have written or said at work.
Only five states have laws protecting an employee’s right to free speech: California, Colorado, Montana, New York and North Dakota. There are no moves afoot in Congress to pass a national law.
And with the explosion of personal blogs on the Internet, the question of employee free speech extends beyond what happens in the workplace. Some companies are checking to make sure workers don’t post derogatory comments about their jobs on the Web.
The argument becomes clearer when employees make comments about a particular workplace. But what about general office humor, such as Dilbert comics? We’d like to know what you think.
Dilbert tangles with First Amendment: When do employees' free-speech rights cross the line?
2 minute read