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Report on Business Careers columnist Leah Eichler

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

In less than a few weeks, the careers of two men are in jeopardy for behaviour that took place outside their office doors. One man lost his position at Hydro One, where he earned more than $100,000 a year, after hurling sexually explicit obscenities at CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt. Then TC Transcontinental suspended one of its employees for sexually aggressive comments to a comedian during a live show, prompting her to leave the stage in tears.

That these companies appropriately disciplined their employees for poor behaviour is a win for those of us striving for safer workplaces, free of misogyny and sexual aggression. However, it's also part of a bigger trend where little separates one's business and personal life – and in many ways the clock never stops for employees behaving badly.

It was only a few months ago that former Q host Jian Ghomeshi made headlines for alleged sexual misconduct. He not only lost his high-profile role at the CBC, but is currently facing criminal charges. Before that, the former CEO of Centerplate, which provides catering services to sports facilities, lost his job when a video of him kicking a puppy in a Vancouver elevator went viral. Even outside of the corporate world, bad behaviour can wreak havoc on one's career prospects – just ask the 12 men at Dalhousie's dentistry school.

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While I applaud all the companies that have decided to remove hostile, and sometimes misogynistic, employees from their work force, this trend should put everyone on alert for bad behaviour conducted any time and anywhere.

"What these incidents have in common is that while the people in question's behaviour wasn't in any way connected with their ability to do their jobs, it still had serious repercussions for their careers," Tara Talbot, vice-president of human resources at Workopolis, said of the events involving the Hydro One and Transcontinental employees.

"Presumably, both of these men have skills that make them assets to their companies; that's what they're paid for. But when your anti-social behaviour becomes public – and in one case goes viral – then you can quickly become a liability for your employer," she added.

For years, I've observed a faulty logic that permeated many workplaces; it determined that so long as an employee did well at work, nothing else mattered. Now, when when words and actions are publicly available via Twitter and YouTube, and the identities of perpetrators are easy to find online, companies can no longer turn a blind eye. For the most part, this isn't a justice issue, but these misdeeds often damage a company's brand and cost them dearly in public relations.

Try Googling TC Transcontinental and news of the heckling still reaches the first search page. Desmond Hague, the former Centerplate CEO, lost his position eight months ago, but when you Google the company the story about the elevator incident tops the list.

"Companies spend vast sums to build and protect their brands – both to consumers of their products or services as well as their employer brand to current and future staff," Ms. Talbot said.

"Having your brand associated with misogyny, harassment or other forms of socially unacceptable behaviour can create a defining moment for organizations. How they choose to move forward when that association is either public or private is critical and being watched and judged by both consumers and current and future talent," she added.

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In other words, a momentary slip in judgment of one employee can cause serious bottom-line consequences for the employer. Dismissing those who demonstrate poor judgment remains an easy business decision.

The idea that employees represent their companies off hours is nothing new. Most companies have long-held policies on who can speak with the media. The difference is that the media, once neatly packaged into organized pillars such as broadcast and print, now exist in neat little devices in most people's pockets. These rules on when your professional work ends and private life begins are still being written. But the moment you cross the line from being an asset to a liability for your company, you're in trouble, Ms. Talbot said.

It's a lesson many employees need to quickly learn: You may not always be working, but you always represent your company.

"The distinction between work and personal is much more grey than in the past," acknowledged Ms. Talbot. "The simple solution is to treat other people with respect at all times, and not behave in a way you wouldn't want a future job interviewer reading about on the Internet."

Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a machine-learning, human capital search engine for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler

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