While attending a Mixed Martial Arts event in Miami, New York Jets head coach, Rex Ryan, apparently made an obscene gesture at some Miami Dolphin fans who were taunting him. Yesterday, the Jets fined Ryan $50,000. Ryan was attending the event, which was neither team nor NFL-sponsored, on his own time, but the team obviously felt that as head coach, Ryan is their representative even when he is "off duty" and that he must conduct himself accordingly.
In the real world, most employees are not celebrities that the general public will try to egg on until they do or say something stupid. Nevertheless, it is important for all of us to remember that the world is now filled with opportunists with camera phones and easy access to YouTube and other media outlets. Though we should not be expecting to see a rash of employers firing factory workers for flipping off a bunch of bar patrons after work, there are real world lessons to be learned from this episode. First, employees need to recognize when they are out in public that there is a significant risk that anything that they do or say that either embarrasses or otherwise reflects poorly on their employer ultimately may get back to the employer. On the other hand, employers should exercise restraint before taking disciplinary action against employees for their off duty conduct to make sure that the conduct truly does negatively impact the company's business or reputation.