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Is it fair to fire someone for having an OnlyFans?

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos, OnlyFans, Getty Images.

What’s happening

Rachel Dolezal, a white woman best known for falsely claiming years ago to be Black, was back in the news recently after being fired from her job at an Arizona school district.

But it wasn’t her bizarre past that cost Dolezal, who now goes by the name Nkechi Diallo, her job. She was fired for having an account on the adult-content site OnlyFans, where she apparently posted pornographic images and videos of herself.

Dolezal’s public notoriety made her case unique, but she is far from the only person to lose their day job for making explicit content in their free time. Recent examples in the news have included several teachers — including two at the same schoola mechanic, a nurse, a judge, a university chancellor and even a TV weatherman. In each case, they were either explicitly let go or have claimed they were forced out after their X-rated side hustle was discovered by their employer.

While this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, the tension between sex work and more mainstream professions has become much more pronounced over the past few years thanks to the emergence of sites like OnlyFans, which have upended the adult entertainment economy by allowing individuals to earn money from self-produced content they distribute to their subscribers.

OnlyFans and a handful of other, similar services exploded in popularity during the pandemic, after widespread lockdowns left millions of people in need of new sources of income. More than 3 million creators share content on OnlyFans, to an audience of over 220 million users. Because of these sites, there is now an unprecedented number of people relying on adult content to supplement their day jobs, meaning the likelihood that those two pursuits will come into conflict is higher than ever before.

Why there’s debate

Pornography is deeply controversial in general, of course, and those diverging opinions run deep in the debate over whether people should lose their jobs for creating adult content on the side.

Some people who were fired have threatened legal action against their former employers, though most legal analysts say businesses do have the right to fire employees for making porn in their off hours. The question really centers around whether they should.

To many socially conservative Americans, porn is simply immoral and businesses have every right — if not an obligation — to distance themselves from employees who take part in it. More often, though, the argument centers around the belief that a worker’s explicit side work reflects poorly on their employer or creates a major distraction for their colleagues.

Critics of this view say businesses have no right to impose their moral standards on their workers’ private lives as long as their side hustle doesn’t impact their ability to do their day jobs — especially when people frequently turn to adult content because their day job doesn’t pay them enough to get by.

Many also make the case that it’s deeply hypocritical for adult performers to be punished while the much larger group who view that content get to remain anonymous and suffer no consequences.

Perspectives

People should be judged by their work, not what they do in their off time

“Instead of our value-diverse, negatively polarized nation of more than 333,000,000 souls constantly contesting which off-the-clock behaviors are bad enough to justify termination, wouldn’t it be simpler to agree that, at least if no laws are broken, one is judged at work only for what one does at work?” — Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

It’s hypocritical to punish only one side of the porn economy

“This whole situation creates an unpleasant environment of hypocrisy. Performers on OnlyFans are often identifiable by those who know them whereas consumers of adult content generally get to remain anonymous. The people who privately view pornography … rarely stand up to defend a person who produces it when that person is doxxed.” — Jonathan Wolf, Above the Law

There has to be room for moral standards in the workplace

“Online, we can fabricate our reality where morals, shame or standards don’t exist. In the real world, consequences are very tangible. You don’t just get downvoted. Likely you get fired.” — Kirsten Fleming, New York Post

Views may change over time, but for now it’s reasonable for companies to not want adult performers on their payroll

“Given the sheer proliferation of ‘amateur’ pornographic videos … it’s quite possible that our attitudes will evolve on this matter. … As it now stands, though, I would suggest that those employed in prominent leadership roles not make porn on the side to supplement their income.” — James Joyner, Outside the Beltway

Companies have every right to protect themselves from the stigma of pornography

“In any organization, if an employee is deemed to have said or done something that causes damage to the company or association, termination is both a likely and legal outcome. In other words, do or say what you want, but that doesn’t mean you can do or say it and still keep your job.” — Bill Barth, Beloit Daily News

The fact that most porn performers are women could mean firing them is illegal

“If you have a policy that on its face is not about discrimination but ends up having a disparate impact on a protected community, now you’re crossing into territory that may be unlawful.” — Derek Demeri, employment law expert, to Associated Press