14 April 2011

Where is the boundary between your private life and your duty to your employer?

State servants have an obligation not to harm the reputation of their employer or the State Services. The 18th standard in the State Services code of conduct requires that We must avoid any activities, work or non-work, that may harm the reputation of our organisation or of the State Services. The explanation is that as a general principle, what we do in our personal lives is of no concern to our organisation unless it interferes with our work performance or reflects badly on the integrity or standing of the State Services. But our employer has a legitimate interest in any of our activities if they are likely to affect relationships with Ministers, other Members of Parliament, or the public. We have a problem if what we do may diminish public trust in government agencies.

And that’s what a New Mexico police officer has found.  To give edge to his Facebook entry he described his job as “human waste disposal”.  This created media excitement after has he was involved in a fatal shooting incident while on duty.  He acknowledged that the entry was quite inappropriate.

The general view seems to be that the right of free speech is constrained where activities like this affect trust and confidence in an agency, where personal interests conflict with employment duties. A New York Times article however suggests lower court decisions are not clear cut about how Supreme Court rulings on free speech are to be applied in this area.

The Albuquerque police office is now on desk duties!