Fired For Heckling — and, For Posting It on Twitter, Too

By Eric B. Meyer

I was going to start the week with this story from TheLedger.com. But then, that whole HR getting sued for FMLA violations thing caught my attention, and now has most of you refusing to come out from under your desks.

But, come on out! Trust me, this golf story is pure gold!

Fired for heckling – and then tweeting about it

Like something out of Happy Gilmore, J.J. Downum, an assistant Athletic Director at a Florida Southern University, bragged on Twitter that, during the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, heckled PGA Tour professional Ian Poulter, yelling, “You will NOT make the Ryder Cup team! You will hit it in the water!

According to Downum, Ian Poulter asked a tournament rules official to remove Downum from the premises. And, sure enough, after Poulter hit his next shot into the water, Downum was removed.

But then, Poulter really got his revenge.

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Poulter found Downum’s tweet and Pouler responded on Twitter,

I’m sure @FSC_Athletics & @FscSports are really proud of your professionalism. I wish you the very best.”

Well, according to TheLedger.com story, getting kicked out of the tournament was the least of Assistant Athletic Director Downum’s problems:

He’s no longer employed at the institution,” said Pete Meyer, Florida Southern’s director of athletics and dean of wellness on Wednesday.

The tweets reflected on Florida Southern, as Downum’s Twitter handle included the college, @JdownumFSC, and the page had the Mocs’ logo at the top.”

Employer takeaways

  1. Generally, there’s no such thing as employee free speech, especially not on Twitter. (Although, when an employee tweets about working conditions, there may be issues relating to protected concerted activity)
  2. When an employee does something dumb on Twitter, they compound the stupidity by referencing their employer on their Twitter page and in their Twitter handle. Because, then the business is taking shrapnel too.
  3. Ultimately, no amount of training will eliminate employee stupidity on Twitter altogether. However, no training at all will help your business grab headlines; although, not necessarily the one you want to make.

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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1 Comment on “Fired For Heckling — and, For Posting It on Twitter, Too

  1. So in other words, what could have been a teachable moment of “don’t do this stupid thing again”…which probably cost the university nothing….ended up costing probably five figures in turnover and replacement costs, all because a golfer had his ego hurt.

    This is one of the dumbest reasons to fire someone that I have ever seen. No student was going to make an enrollment decision based on the actions of that person. Therefore, the university was going to lose no money. Was heckling the guy dumb? Yes. Could the university fire him for it? Well, they can really fire him for any reason, or no reason at all. This is not about legalities. This is about being smart and training your people rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s in the best interest of the organization – turnover costs too much to play games like this. And as someone who spent over a decade working in higher ed, it’s money they don’t have to spend.

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