On the reality series, Big Brother, contestants live in a small house with a group of strangers while cameras roll 24 hours a day, recording everything they say and do. They also know that anything that doesn’t violate primetime censorship rules could end up on one of the three episodes CBS airs in a week.
But primetime isn’t what landed three contestants in hot water with their employers this week. It was the uncensored, 24 hour pay feed that CBS runs on the internet. For $26.99 per season, fans can log on and watch the players eat, sleep, play and gossip about each other and it’s all fair game. They may whisper, but those microphones are designed to pick up every word and that’s how the trouble started.
College student and model Aaryn Gries was overheard making both homophobic and racists comments regarding her gay, Asian and African American housemates. The talent agency who represents her immediately dropped her contract saying,
“While we disagree with Aaryn’s statements, we defend her right to make them; however, due to their direct conflict with many of the values we hold at Zephyr, we cannot continue to allow her to represent our company, nor do we feel comfortable representing her. We feel certain that there will be other agencies which will have no conflict representing her, and wish her nothing but the best.”
Before joining the competition, GinaMarie Zimmerman was a pageant coordinator for East Coast USA Pageant, Inc. She was fired when she was heard whispering the “n” word on the live feed along with a series of other racist remarks. Unlike Aaryn’s former agency, GinaMarie’s employer wasn’t so tactful with their response.
“We are actually thankful that this show let us see GinaMarie for who she truly is. We would never want her to be a role model to our future contestants. In a business where we are surrounded by beauty every day we are saddened to see something so ugly come from someone we put on a very high pedestal.”
Railroad conductor Spencer Clawson, took hate speech to new heights by uttering homophobic remarks, slinging demeaning slurs about women, and raising Hitler for his good works.
His employer, Union Pacific Railroad, issued a statement distancing themselves from his remarks and stating that he is on unpaid leave. They also reference a collective bargaining agreement which is probably all that kept them from firing him outright.
And it doesn’t end there. At least three other contestants have been accused of going too far in their remarks, so it’s only a matter of time before more employers speak out.
As for CBS, they’re in the clear, after all, the whole point of the uncensored feed is to show the true nature of people who live in close quarters without any privacy. If the feeds were boring, no one would watch, so this kind of drama is just what they need to keep the ratings up and the live feed dollars rolling in.
For the contestants and their employers, it’s a different story.
HR Consultant Crystal Spraggins says that even though employees have a right to express their opinions in public, employers have the right to protect their brand.
“In reality, “free” speech is anything but, as many workers have found out the hard way. The truth is that workers give up many freedoms in exchange for a steady paycheck and benefits. If the brand is even potentially damaged because an employee makes an offensive comment (or two) that becomes public, the employer has to take action. Because, let’s face it, people react strongly to these types of comments. If might be right or it might be wrong, but it’s reality, and employers have and will continue to operate within that reality. Ask Michael Richards. Or Mel Gibson. Or Paula Deen.”
Stan C. Kimer, President of Total Engagement Consulting adds that it’s not just about a company’s brand, it’s also about mood in the workplace.
“If an employee makes racist remarks it could lead to an uncomfortable or hostile environment when the person returns to work. Everyone would know about the racist comments and those especially of that race may feel very uncomfortable working with that person. It could have a huge impact on team morale and productivity and eventually the bottom line.”
Instead of firing the offending employee, Kimer suggests a little HR intervention and in-depth diversity training might be in order.
What Do You Think?
Would you fire an employee if you knew they were making racist statements in public? Or would you be willing to try intervention first? Let us know in the comments!
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Photo credit: Houseguests Spencer and Andy before the first Power of Veto Competition. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS c2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.