If you have a Facebook account, you will have come across #Neknominate, the drinking game that has gone viral in recent weeks. The game involves shunning the age-old tradition of moderate drinking with friends in the same room at the same time and instead consists of players recording themselves downing an alcoholic drink and then challenging others to do the same, all through the medium of Facebook.
In a worrying but inevitable display of one-upmanship, these videos have become more and more extreme. “Highlights” (using the word at its loosest) include someone entering a branch of Tesco on horseback before downing a Pepsi Max and a woman dressed in stockings and suspenders downing a can of Stella in the fruit and vegetable aisle of Asda.
So what (if anything) does this mean for employers? Harmless fun, yes? Not for friends and family of the four Britons believed to have died as a result, obviously, but does that risk give employers the right to intervene?
Firstly, it may mean that more employers start undertaking social media checks on potential employees- that star candidate may lose something of his sparkle when you’ve seen a video of him drinking his own urine (true story). Obviously fully aware of the perils of drinking on an empty stomach, reports do at least say that the man in question took the precaution of mixing it with cat food and, to settle his digestion, vodka. Is this the sort of person you want in your business? Even recognising that behaving idiotically in his private life does not necessarily mean that he will do so at work, why take the risk?
Employers should be aware that what employees choose to do in their spare time is essentially their own decision, up to a point at least. No matter how outrageous the video, or however many live goldfish are consumed (true story), unless the #Neknominate video somehow relates to the employment, employers will not be able to take disciplinary action. Any drinking in the workplace may be misconduct, and justify disciplinary action. The employee’s conduct could also warrant disciplinary action if it harms the employer’s reputation, for example by his wearing the work uniform in the video while doing something anti-social or just plain stupid. But mere disapproval of online drinking games will not constitute grounds for intervention.
So whether #Neknominate proves to be career suicide or just harmless fun will be vary from case to case. Employers should beware of knee-jerk reactions and try to apply common sense alongside their own internal policies. With a bit of luck #Neknominate will, like most viral sensations, disappear as quickly as it arrived, allowing the nation’s goldfish to breathe a watery sigh of relief and then forget the whole thing. What whole thing? Oh, look – a submerged castle.