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HR ‘Don’ts’ Inspired by Netflix’s Tiger King

In the midst of our pandemic-induced self-isolation and, in many cases, mandatory shelter-in-place orders, some of you have probably used this time to better yourselves. Perhaps you’ve tried out some new recipes or began an exercise regime or learned to knit or played Monopoly with your housebound children. If that is you, I say bravo! If, however, you are like me and have been working remotely from home in your pjs while eating all the emergency food supplies and binge-watching questionable TV programming, this post is for you.

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Source: Andywak / Shutterstock

Thankfully, just as I thought I might lose my mind from the boring repetition of my humdrum existence these last few weeks, the Netflix gods looked down upon me, saw my distress, and sent me manna from heaven (more like pork rinds from Oklahoma) in the form of a true-crime documentary about a mulleted, sequins-wearing, tattooed, pierced, gun-toting, tiger-loving, throupled troubadour with political aspirations and murderous intentions. Of course, I’m talking about none other than Joe Exotic, aka “The Tiger King.”

If you are one of the two people left in America who has not yet watched the true-crime documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix and don’t want to read any spoilers, you may want to turn back now. Otherwise, let me take this opportunity to bring you these HR tips on what NOT to do, inspired by Joe Exotic’s unique brand of unhinged managerial madness.

1. Don’t Turn a Blind Eye to Safety

Joe Exotic’s safety protocols at his privately run zoo were, to put it gingerly, less than stringent. Hopefully, your employees are not in real danger of having their arms ripped off by a tiger or being threatened with guns on a daily basis, but all businesses must abide by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause and provide a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Companies must also comply with all other OSHA regulations applicable to their industry or business.

2. Don’t Fraternize with the Help

There’s no law against dating or even marrying someone you work with, but romantic entanglements can be risky business, especially when one of the individuals in the relationship has supervisory authority over the other. Just because Joe Exotic decided to enter into a polygamous marriage with two guys who worked for him at his private zoo in exchange for meth and one-on-one tiger time, you should probably think twice about allowing employees to fraternize at your business.

At a minimum, you should not allow employees to fraternize with their managers, or you should at least ask them to sign a love contract or similar agreement confirming that the relationship is consensual and outlining expectations in the event the relationship goes sour.

As Monsieur Exotic found out firsthand, it can really strain professional relationships when the boss has to continue working with his toothless ex-husband who impregnated the woman in the front office. Awkward!

3. Don’t Allow Secondary Pursuits to Affect Your Business

We all have interests outside of work, but many employers would be wise to adopt policies preventing their employees from engaging in outside work if it would create a conflict of interest or otherwise distract from employees’ ability to focus on the work they are doing for the company.

In Joe Exotic’s case, although he was able to dabble in country music as a side hustle (making some pretty righteous videos in the process, I might add), his successive presidential and gubernatorial campaigns caused him to lose focus on the zoo’s business needs, which negatively impacted the zoo’s operations and financial health.

4. Don’t Neglect to Conduct Background Checks on Employees

A company is only as good as its people, and the ability to recruit star employees is what sets some businesses apart from others. Although you’ll need a legitimate business reason to deny employment to someone based on prior criminal conduct, and you must comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and analogous state laws in making employment decisions based on information contained in a criminal background check, you should be screening applicants to some degree.

For his part, Joe Exotic had a penchant for hiring hardened felons who served prison time for crimes of violence, theft, and drugs. As a result, it was surprising to no one, except, apparently, Joe himself, when these same employees were later found to be disloyal and untrustworthy.

5. Don’t Retaliate

A familiar refrain among HR professionals is pleading with employees who believe they have been wronged by someone else at work not to retaliate or seek revenge. Retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected conduct, such as complaining about discrimination, harassment, unpaid overtime, or the need for medical leave, is illegal and can result in liability for a business.

As Joe Exotic came to understand, it is also illegal to hire one of your employees to murder your arch nemesis. Fortunately, though, murder-for-hire schemes are not nearly as common as the garden variety retaliation claims that comprise the majority of charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state human rights agencies.

Hey, no manager is purrrrfect, and even the best companies have room to improve their workplace culture and the quality of employees they attract and retain. As we do so, may we heed these cautionary lessons from the man, the myth, the legend: the Tiger King.

Be safe, everybody!