Can You Fire Someone For Wearing the Wrong Tie? Sure. Should You? Maybe.

Last Updated Jan 26, 2011 11:42 AM EST

By now, you've probably heard about the car salesman in Chicago who was fired for wearing a Green Bay Packers tie to work the day after the Bears lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Full disclosure: I know as much about football as I do about quantum physics and care about it even less. But what I do care about is civility in the workplace. In this case, I'm not sure who was the bigger offender: John Stone, for his thoroughly bone-headed choice of neck wear; or Jerry Roberts, the Chevrolet dealership's general manager, for his hotheaded reaction. Boys, grow up!
To answer the first question on everyone's mind: Yes, apparently firing Stone was perfectly legal. "Under Illinois at will employment law, any employee without a contract can be fired for any reason as long as it's not an illegal reason," says Michael Helfand on his blog, Chicago's Real Law Blog. "And the fact of the matter is that it's not illegal to fire someone because you don't like what they are wearing. It is illegal to fire someone for their race, religion, age, pregnancy, because of a job injury, etc." Still, I wouldn't be surprised to hear about a wrongful termination lawsuit sometime soon. All because of a tie? Nope. Because of poor judgment and terrible communication. And, yes, men behaving badly over sports.

Stone, who had worked at the dealership for just a couple of months, says he wore the tie in honor of his recently deceased grandmother, a lifelong Packers fan. But waking up the morning after the home team experiences a stinging defeat and consciously deciding to flaunt your loyalty to the rival just seems like an act of petty aggression to me. He's a salesman and, especially when money is tight, selling a big-ticket item like a car is a personal and emotional process. Good sales people find common ground with their customers; most wouldn't dream of alienating a prospect before the conversation even begins. If Stone didn't realize that wearing the tie was risky, he certainly found out quickly enough when his boss, Jerry Roberts, asked him to take it off. Stone says he thought Roberts was joking.

For Roberts, the tie was not only insulting to Bears fans, but also flew in the face of the business's brand identity: the dealership, Webb Chevrolet, apparently spent $20,000 a month on radio advertising with the Bears during football season and had Bears players driving loaner vehicles from the dealership. So a Packer's tie on the premises was just, well, wrong. Seems reasonable, right? But according to Stone, Roberts didn't say a thing about the business relationship with the Bears. His threat -- remove the tie or you're fired - was a command and control directive that ultimately and unnecessarily escalated to confrontation. The upshot: Stone lost his job, but was almost immediately hired by a competing dealership that no doubt saw incredible publicity value in the hire.

Webb Chevrolet will be the big loser here as most consumers are likely to view Stone as the aggrieved party. Stone's new boss, Guy Cesario at Chevrolet of Homewood, told local TV station WGN that he is already receiving calls from potential customers who are Stone sympathizers.

So what's your view on this? Should Stone have been more respectful? Should Roberts have used a softer touch? Tell us.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Squeaky Clean, CC 2.0

Further reading:

Why Your Boss Should Be Able to Fire You Over Facebook
The Only Interview Tip You'll Ever Need: Don't Pee in Your Soup
Are You a Leader or a Manager? Marcus Buckingham Says You Can't Be Both