IT Employment

Charlie Sheen and other co-workers from Mars

Can non-violent quirks ever be a reason to fire an employee? And, if so, when?

For the past couple of weeks, much of the world has been transfixed by the Charlie Sheen play-by-play melt-down. From the outside, the whole deal seems like a tourist ride on the bizarro train. But, of course, his family and friends don't find his exploits quite as entertaining as the rest of the world seems to.

This all makes me wonder what the work environment at Two and a Half Men has been like for the crew. His behavior and unpredictability may not have been directed at his co-workers but at what point does it become an indirect liability?

My long-term readers will be familiar with the following story. Some years ago, I worked for a start-up that grew from about 15 employees to a hundred. At one point, the company was too small for a formal HR department, and a lot of the odd behavior of employees was attributed to quirkiness and ignored.

This all kind of changed one day when a co-worker (who was a good friend of mine) had to go see one of the technical writers about a question. I'll call the writer "Mr. X."

So my friend goes to Mr. X's office and knocks on his door. He hears, "Who is it?" When he says his name, Mr. X tells him to come in. When he opens the door, he sees Mr. X sitting there, wearing nothing but his boxer shorts. After seeing my friend's face, which looked like he'd been hit upside the head with a 2x4 (and, frankly, that would have been more welcome), Mr. X shrugged and said in explanation, "It's hot in here."

Now, if it had been me who opened that door and saw that sight, I would have run screaming from the building in search of the nearest place to take a Silkwood shower and get a partial lobotomy. For some inexplicable reason, this story stayed underground until Mr. X was actually let go eventually, but only due to downsizing.

So I wonder, was this just eccentric behavior or did it indicate the possibility of worse, more damaging behavior? I think a lot of people wonder about this -- when is something so odd that you have to take action?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

22 comments
Thunderboltinx
Thunderboltinx

There will always be "ODDBALLS", you can laugh...life is short and in the "Eon of History", a guy with only underwear on in an office from which you can leave very quickly, isn't such a BIG DEAL" , even for an IT person!

theusmale2
theusmale2

You'll know it when it happens. Nuff said. Moved on.

Realvdude
Realvdude

I once worked in a office building had a similar problem heat in the summer cooling in the winter; the first one being more predominant. We occasionally worked Saturdays, sometimes individually and sometimes by department, and the AC only ran M-F. One regular, frequently worked by himself, and was caught off guard in his Hanes. He apologized to his fellow worker and put his pants on. I hope most can see the difference in the actions. I love comments about dress code, but the only statement I found valid was the one about if he had been caught coming to work that way, it wouldn't be a company problem. That very statement points out the right of the employer to expect at least minimum reasoning from the employee as to what is exceptable dress. In both these stories the employee ignored what they knew was acceptable for the same reason, whoever in Toni's story, the employee had little concern about the impact of his action.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

When I was young, dad said "If you want to keep your job, don't commit the 3 F's: Fighting, Filching, and I'm sure you can figure out the last one."

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

You see, Mr. X didn't show any of the behavior of a sexual predator. He took a pragmatic attitude and the only solution to a problem he had available. What we don't know is how hot it really was in his office, or whether his complaining about it would have resulted in an acceptable environmental fix. There have been times I've stripped down to a t-shirt and barefeet at work due to poor air conditions, and this is in a hospital office with men, women, and visitors. I've also walked out several times when construction noise levels made it unbearable. Under those conditions, it behoves management and coworkers to lighten up and relax those "standards". Unless they would prefer to feild a bunch of OSHA complaints? I enjoy killing and eating furry, feathered, and finned critters. In some circles, that's not quirky, that's considered a monster.

redvette
redvette

When you are judging a person you have to give the whole story, just judging him on what he has said, is unfair to the people that fired him, there is more to the story here. You should also judge him by his actions, as the old saying goes actions speak louder then words. This is not the first or last time Charlie has been in trouble, and screwed up his personal life. Now he is messing with other people's lives, his fellow actors, X wife's, children, etc. And he thinks this is perfectly ok, he is right and every one else is wrong. Take responsibility for your own actions Charlie. Thanx...Gunny

sissy sue
sissy sue

but behavior like this is the kind of thing that gives technical writers a bad name. As a technical writer myself, I tend to be sensitive about it. I've worked for decades trying to give credibility to the profession.

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

Toni - Woudl you have done your same silkworm showe4r run if Mr X looked like Brad Pitt?

jimmeq
jimmeq

The oddities on the TV show "The Office" pretty much describe the work place. But, it makes me wonder why it's so funny on TV, but not in real life.

JamesRL
JamesRL

The legal docs filed show Charlie was fired for breeches in the morals clauses in his contract. But there is certainly an argument to be made that Charlie has created a hostile work environment with his campaign against the shows producer, the production company and the network. And its also clear that his unscheduled "breaks" from the show to enter rehab have impacted the lives of everyone working on the show. Its a good thing to try and help people who are trying to turn their lives around, and I have some sympathy for people who have made mistakes and trying to improve. Charlie doesn't fall into this catagory. Perhaps he has a mental illness, but he doesn't seem to want anyone's help. He has to hit bottom.

Dethpod
Dethpod

That man is having the best midlife crisis EVAR!!!!

Jacqinabox
Jacqinabox

Mr X did ask who was at the door. I think he has to be given the benefit of the doubt that had it been a female or less familiar male colleague that he would have asked them to wait a minute.

HaveBrainWillTravel
HaveBrainWillTravel

As far as I can tell, Mr. X just did what he needed to do to get his work done in an uncomfortable environment. And there are people for whom the one layer he did leave in place would be enough for decency. Clearly, you and your friend don't agree with that, and clearly you and he both found it distressing. What I find disturbing is the intensity of your reaction and how you expressed it. "Worse, more damaging behavior" certainly includes running screaming from a building for any reason. (Unless of course you are playing a role in a cheap disaster epic and that behavior is what the script and the director called for.) I'd say it also includes purposefully seeking out a "Silkwood Shower", a lobotomy, or welcoming a blow to the head with a 2x4. OK, so maybe you just wanted a bring a little more excitement into our lives while creating a little uproar around men who don't share your particular values. You have at least helped me clarify some things that I didn't know needed clarifying. 1. I'm grateful that I did not watch "Silkwood", that I let the expose' in "Rolling Stone" be enough. 2. I have a deeper appreciation for WAVAW's objection to cinematic portrayals of violence against women. 3. I may well be in the minority on this point and I'm OK with that, but my ideal office mate would more resemble Mr. X than you. 4. And probably most important for me, my next office must have either a working thermostat or an openable window, or both. "I love humanity, but telecommuting looks better all the time"

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

and get his own show called: [b]$!@# Charlie Sheen Says![/b]

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

from the classic 'Seinfeld' episode. George is caught boffing the cleaning lady at work after hours. When he's called into the boss' office, he cops an ignorance plea, something like, "Was that wrong? I shouldn't have done that? I gotta tell you, nobody said anything about it. It isn't in the employee manual." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RvNS7JfcMM

robo_dev
robo_dev

that employee would be politely walked to the door. Unless that employee was the son of the company president, or was the company president, then hanging out in your hanes would be a trip to unemployment land.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

it's ok to fire when the employee's behavior causes his/her own or coworkers' output to suffer, cause a bad atmosphere, or compromises the company. Charlie Sheen's drug-or-whatever-induced behavior would certainly fit that description. Badmouthing the boss in a public forum is usually a no-no, too. If Mr. X telecommuted, the underwear issue wouldn't have been one. If he was a quality worker otherwise, I can see why they'd have kept him (but he certainly should've been warned). It's easier to tell someone to keep their pants on/stop using speakerphone all the time/cut down on their smoke breaks etc. than it is to go fishing for another good worker. I am, however, surprised that Mr. X didn't at least think about putting clothes on when someone knocked at his door. It might've been a VIP who was on the other side of that door.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

That is certainly indecent and depending on behaviour it could be considered sexual harassment. If the company has a dress code then the first course of action would be giving the employee a warning for dress code violation. Hopefully Mr. X would understand that hanging out at work in your underwear is unacceptable. Why did your friend not report this unusual behaviour?

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

I just wished that people closed their doors. The things that I've seen, no wonder Bell Labs had a rule against recording devices! Alas, I could have made VP in under a year.

JamesRL
JamesRL

It would be a pretty fast trip to HR, once they had dressed. We once had a formal dress policy, we now have a less formal policy. Shirts/sweaters etc are never ever ever optional. If someone has a problem with the temperature in their area, there are rules and regulations around that as well, and there are remedies.

thejdawg569_2000
thejdawg569_2000

if it had ms y instead it would have been totally acceptable due to bill clinton

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