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By Los Angeles Times
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Opinion: Company firings erode notion of fairness


Last updated 1/19/2021 at 3:23pm

Failure to wear masks can do more than spread COVID-19, as some of the intruders who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week are finding. It also reveals faces to security cameras, government investigators and online private eyes, who’ve used those bare visages and other telling clues to identify many of the miscreants.

As a result, not only have many of them been hit with criminal charges, but several were summarily fired from their jobs.

As a group, the mob inside the Capitol certainly was breaking the law in the most serious of ways, attempting to stop the workings of government and possibly to physically attack members of Congress. But no one has been convicted. It puts our society in a tricky position: We need to repudiate and take strong though appropriate steps against those who act violently toward our government. At the same time, we have always cherished the words “innocent until proven guilty.”

Beyond that, some employers have reportedly demanded resignations from employees who were outside the Capitol, rallying, marching, sometimes saying abhorrent things and parroting President Trump’s baseless nonsense about stolen elections. Among them was a Chapman University professor, John Eastman, who was one of the speakers at the rally. More than 160 Chapman faculty members signed a letter calling for the university to end Eastman’s teaching duties and take away his endowed professorship. The university refused, citing the rules on academic freedom and faculty discipline that forbid such a step. Nonetheless, Eastman resigned under pressure as the anger against him mounted.

The firings have even struck those who protested the protesters. An employee at GitHub reportedly was fired after using a company Slack channel to refer to the rioters as Nazis. Yes, personal use of company resources is not allowed, but it’s unlikely that this employee was the first ever to do so there.

In tightly strung times when people are bound to do things that others find highly objectionable — and to be caught on social media or someone’s cellphone doing it — we’re left with complicated questions about when they deserve to lose their livelihoods.

It’s seldom a legal issue. In most states, private employers retain broad power to fire an employee for pretty much any reason, as long as they don’t discriminate against a protected group, punish some employees more than others for the same actions or violate an employment contract.

But just because private companies can do something doesn’t necessarily mean they should. There might be photos of people in the Capitol, but were they among those causing damage or threatening violence? If they weren’t and are never charged, are their actions nevertheless horrifying enough to merit loss of job?

We add to, rather than soften, the damage done to our system of laws if due process is completely ignored. Employees should at least have the chance to be interviewed about their actions and offer a response. Extremist groups react without waiting for the facts or listening to others. It only erodes society’s notions of fairness if companies emulate them.

— Los Angeles Times


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