Off-Duty Deviance in the Eye of the Beholder: Implications of Moral Foundations Theory in the Age of Social Media

Journal of Business Ethics 172 (3):605-620 (2020)
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Drawing from moral foundations theory, we show that differences in sensitivity to distinct moral norms help explain differences in the perceived fairness of punishing employees for off-duty deviance. We used an initial study to validate realistic examples of non-criminal behavior that were perceived as violating a specific moral foundation. Participants in the main study evaluated scenarios in which co-workers were fired for those behaviors, which took place outside of work but were revealed via social media. The extent to which participants valued the norm violated by the co-worker positively predicted perceived fairness of the firing, and negatively predicted expressed intent to take retributive action against the responsible manager. This effect was moderated by the presence of a pre-existing organizational policy regarding off-duty conduct, which uniformly decreased negative reactions to the firing. Because social media now makes the revelation of an employee’s off-duty behavior to a broad audience increasingly likely, our results suggest the importance of developing an approach for responding to employee off-duty deviance while highlighting the relevance of moral pluralism to the study of third-party reactions.



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