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Off-Duty Deviance: Organizational Policies and Evidence for Two Prevention Strategies

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Anecdotal evidence suggests that organizations are increasingly concerned with employee off-duty deviance (ODD), yet management research has rarely investigated this type of deviant behavior. We define ODD as behaviors committed outside the workplace or when off-duty that are deviant by organizational and/or societal standards, jeopardize the employee's status within the organization, and threaten the interests and well-being of the organization and its stakeholders. Three studies are presented to better understand the relevance of ODD to modern organizations and then to understand potential approaches to reduce the incidence of ODD. The first study provides a qualitative review of publicly available ODD policies within the Fortune 500; the results showed that 13.4% of the Fortune 500 had a publicly available ODD policy, with the majority prohibiting criminal forms of ODD to protect the firm's reputation. The next 2 studies examine the efficacy of different approaches to reduce criminal ODD: policy adoption and personnel selection. In the second study, a longitudinal, quasi-experimental design showed a significant-albeit modest-reduction in criminal ODD following the adoption of a conduct policy. In the third and final study, a criterion-related validity design supported the predictive validity of general mental ability and prior deviance in predicting criminal ODD. This compendium of studies provides an initial empirical investigation into ODD and offers implications relevant to the deviance literature, policy development, and personnel selection. (PsycINFO Database Record
Off-Duty Deviance: Organizational Policies and Evidence for Two
Prevention Strategies
Brian D. Lyons
Elon University
Brian J. Hoffman
University of Georgia
William H. Bommer
California State University, Fresno
Colby L. Kennedy and Andrea L. Hetrick
University of Georgia
Anecdotal evidence suggests that organizations are increasingly concerned with employee off-duty
deviance (ODD), yet management research has rarely investigated this type of deviant behavior. We
define ODD as behaviors committed outside the workplace or when off-duty that are deviant by
organizational and/or societal standards, jeopardize the employee’s status within the organization, and
threaten the interests and well-being of the organization and its stakeholders. Three studies are presented
to better understand the relevance of ODD to modern organizations and then to understand potential
approaches to reduce the incidence of ODD. The first study provides a qualitative review of publicly
available ODD policies within the Fortune 500; the results showed that 13.4% of the Fortune 500 had a
publicly available ODD policy, with the majority prohibiting criminal forms of ODD to protect the firm’s
reputation. The next 2 studies examine the efficacy of different approaches to reduce criminal ODD:
policy adoption and personnel selection. In the second study, a longitudinal, quasi-experimental design
showed a significant—albeit modest—reduction in criminal ODD following the adoption of a conduct
policy. In the third and final study, a criterion-related validity design supported the predictive validity of
general mental ability and prior deviance in predicting criminal ODD. This compendium of studies
provides an initial empirical investigation into ODD and offers implications relevant to the deviance
literature, policy development, and personnel selection.
Keywords: deviance, off-duty, policy, intelligence, background checks
The management literature has increasingly focused on the
prevention of “on-duty” employee deviant behavior, commonly
referred to as counterproductive work behavior (CWB; Berry,
Ones, & Sackett, 2007). Despite the substantial empirical attention
toward CWB, researchers have largely ignored “off-duty” behav-
iors that may be harmful to organizations and their stakeholders.
Certainly, the news is replete with stories of employees engaging
in off-duty behaviors deemed as deviant by their employers. For
example, Adam Smith was terminated by his employer, Vante Inc.,
for posting a video of himself berating a Chick-Fil-A employee
about Chick-Fil-A’s controversial corporate policy prohibiting
openly gay employees (Marketwired, 2012). In late 2011, the
Chief of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was arrested
for driving under the influence, which resulted in unfavorable
media coverage and his ultimate resignation (Pasztor, 2011). These
off-duty behaviors—the former representing a noncriminal expres-
sion of speech and the latter being a criminal act—led to punitive
outcomes for each employee, one resulting in termination and the
other in resignation. At least anecdotally, these and other cases are
suggestive of a current issue facing many organizations: managing
employee deviance away from work.
Organizational efforts to manage these types of behaviors are
evident in at least two types of staffing-related processes: pre-
employment screening of prospective employees and monitor-
ing incumbent employees’ behaviors off-duty. The first strategy
to manage off-duty behavior—pre-employment screening— has
frequently been discussed in the literature through the content
domains of social media investigations, drug testing, and criminal
This article was published Online First November 23, 2015.
Brian D. Lyons, Department of Management, Elon University; Brian J.
Hoffman, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia; William H.
Bommer, Department of Management, California State University, Fresno;
Colby L. Kennedy and Andrea L. Hetrick, Department of Psychology,
University of Georgia.
Brian J. Hoffman is a visiting professor in the Department of Industrial
Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg.
Brian D. Lyons and Brian J. Hoffman contributed equally to this article.
William H. Bommer and Colby L. Kennedy contributed equally to the
delivery of this article. Portions of this article were presented at the 27th
annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psy-
chology, San Diego, CA, and the 73rd annual conference of the Academy
of Management, Orlando, FL. We thank Nicholas S. McMillen, Robert W.
Martin, Sarah A. Patton, Katelyn C. Briggs, and Sydney R. Siver for their
assistance in the data collection process. We would also like to thank
Associate Editor Chris Berry and the two anonymous reviewers for their
helpful feedback throughout the revision process.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Brian D.
Lyons, Department of Management, Elon University, Martha and Spencer
Love School of Business, Campus Box 2075, Elon, NC 27244. E-mail:
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Applied Psychology © 2015 American Psychological Association
2016, Vol. 101, No. 4, 463–483 0021-9010/16/$12.00
... Indeed, a growing body of scholarship suggests that studying the observable deviant behaviors in sports can provide valuable insight for non-sports settings (Foreman, Soebbing, and Seifried 2019;Lyons et al. 2016;Wolfe et al. 2005). This article adds to this thread of the literature by conducting an empirical investigation of minor "workplace" deviance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from 2009 to 2018. ...
... Deviance can come at a substantial cost (Black 2005). Corporations are increasingly interested in the personal conduct of employees (Lyons et al. 2016); therefore, ethical and disciplined leaders and employees are in high demand. Several recent studies agree that various character traits deter deviant behavior (Bourdage et al. 2018;Gok et al. 2017;Louw et al. 2016). ...
... Because of this unique feature, it is increasingly common to study workplace phenomena using sports data (Wolfe et al. 2005). In particular, sports are used to examine several workplace issues, including matters specific to misconduct and deviance by organizational members (e.g., Foreman, Soebbing, and Seifried 2019; Lyons et al. 2016;Walker, Seifried, and Soebbing 2018). Bias and discrimination studies abound in the economics of sport literature (Harris and Berri 2016). ...
Deviant behavior associated with a firm’s brand comes at a substantial cost to the organization. Corporations are becoming increasingly interested in the personal conduct of employees on and off duty. For this reason, firms may seek out employees with military backgrounds because they believe military training helps to shape ethical and disciplined habits. Several studies indicate military veterans may be less likely to engage in deviant behavior. However, other studies find deviant behavior is an extensive problem within the military. The purpose of this study is to compare the levels of minor workplace deviance between military and non-military organizations. In order to make this comparison, sample data from college football are utilized to compare on-field penalties—a proxy for workplace deviance. Results from an empirical model indicate that players with military training are less likely to engage in minor workplace deviance.
... While both of these examples concern an employee fired for off-duty behavior that employers only learned of from social media, many observers might approve of the firing in one case but not the other. Organizations are increasingly referencing off-duty behavior in employee code of conduct statements (Lyons et al. 2016), yet limited research has examined the potential impact of punishing employees for behavior outside of work. This leaves managers to address complicated, often public, situations with little understanding of how their actions will be perceived, whether their actions will produce backlash from other employees, and why observers might arrive at conflicting judgments about the situation. ...
... Some organizations have begun to incorporate statements regarding off-duty deviance in their company codes of conduct (Stohl et al. 2017). A content analysis of Fortune 500 firms' organizational codes of conduct found that 13% included an explicit statement regarding off-duty deviance (typically criminal) on their company website, and almost one out of five of these statements addressed social media usage (Lyons et al. 2016). As an example, the code provided to employees of General Motors (GM) states "you are the face of the Company, and what you publish reflects on GM and our brands. ...
... This effect was consistent across multiple examples of off-duty deviance. Establishing and publicizing an off-duty conduct policy that covers social media, as some large organizations have now done (Lyons et al. 2016;Stohl et al. 2017), may well reduce post-punishment backlash from employees who might otherwise object to actions taken against their coworkers, regardless of the nature of the off-duty conduct. A long-held principle of progressive discipline is that employees should be forewarned of prohibited workplace behaviors and their associated consequences (Noe et al. 2017); the findings presented here show that this principle also applies to prohibited off-duty behavior. ...
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... This paper extends the literature on sports sponsorship by empirically analyzing the effect of off-field misconduct on the share prices of implicated indirect sponsors. The paper contributes to the literature on why stakeholders inconsistently sanction firm misconduct (Barnett, 2014;Chien et al., 2016) and how organizational policies deter employee off-duty deviance (Lyons et al., 2016). ...
... Second, results show that the impact of player off-field misconduct on team sponsor stock prices differs across different NFL Player Conduct Policy regimes, an organizational policy aimed at reducing employee off-duty deviance (ODD). A larger impact on team sponsor stock prices under the third PCP indicates that stakeholders perceived this policy to be more effective than earlier versions, providing support for the effectiveness of organizational ODD policies (Lyons et al., 2016). ...
... The impact of player off-field misconduct on sponsors also depends on league policies aimed at deterring this behavior. Off-field misconduct by NFL players represents a form of employee off-duty deviance (ODD) and the NFL PCP represents an organizational ODD policy (Lyons et al., 2016). Lyons et al. (2016) noted that public organizational ODD policies communicate important information to stakeholders and found that about 13% of Fortune 500 companies provided ODD policies on the company website. ...
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... Further, the present study seeks to examine the effect of executive and employee deviance committed within the scope of job duties (i.e., cheating for a competitive advantage, e.g., falsifying documents) as well as employee deviance committed outside the workplace (e.g., domestic violence or unlawful possession of a firearm) on CEO dismissals. To analyze these forms of deviance committed at different levels (e.g., management and subordinates), a unique dataset of 16 National Football League seasons is used, which provides accurate and transparent measures of head coach and organizational performance (Day, Gordon, and Fink 2012;Wolfe et al. 2005), deviance (Lyons et al. 2016), and sociopolitical measures of executive dismissals (Holmes 2011;Wangrow, Schepker, and Barker 2018). ...
... We believe the present research contributes to the existing literature in several ways. First, while previous research explored various elements of employee and organizational deviance and misconduct (e.g., Lyons et al. 2016;Michalak and Ashkanasy 2013;Robinson and Bennett 1995), limited research explores the reactions by internal and external stakeholders to these behaviors. While Barnett (2014) explored the complexity related to stakeholders' decisions to hold firms accountable for misconduct, he noted that "stakeholders' attention is directed in certain ways that bound where they look, limit what they notice, bias their assessment, and constrain their willingness to act" (2014: 694). ...
... Consistent with the aforementioned examples of Volkswagen and Ford, the focus of the present research is on a subset of elite deviance, namely executive deviance, whereby executives are responsible for their own deviance and the deviance of their subordinates. Furthermore, executive deviance may be committed while acting on behalf of the organization or while off-duty (Lyons et al. 2016). We expand on executive deviance below. ...
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The seminal model of CEO dismissals utilizes four sociopolitical forces that operate together in determining whether a CEO will be dismissed. Missing from the sociopolitical forces of CEO dismissals is executive deviance. We propose the inclusion of executive deviance as the fifth sociopolitical force in CEO dismissals, which is not limited to the deviant actions of the executive, but also the executive’s subordinates. Within the comprehensive CEO dismissal framework, the effect of executive deviance on head coach dismissals in the National Football League (NFL) from the 2000–2001 to 2015–2016 season is examined using four levels of executive deviance: (a) deviance committed directly by the executive, (b) minor workplace deviance by employees, (c) serious workplace deviance by employees, and (d) off-duty deviance by employees. Logistic regression results indicate all four levels of executive deviance increase the likelihood of executive dismissal and have more substantial effects than organizational performance. We encourage researchers to include executive deviance within their comprehensive, ceteris paribus models of CEO dismissals, empirically test the effects of executive deviance in various industries, and revisit past models of executive dismissals to mitigate potentially erroneous statistical results from confounding variables. 50 free full-text copies available here:
... As with prior management research utilizing similar samples (e.g.,Donovan & Williams, 2003;Grijalva et al., 2020;Kilduff et al., 2016;Lyons et al., 2016;Mach et al., 2010), the athletes in our sample were formally affiliated with a professional sports club. In other words, they are contractually attached to this institution, which serves as their employer. ...
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... Fourth, there may be additional scrutiny on expatriates in their personal lives such that off-duty deviance (Dilchert, Mercado, & Ones, 2016;Lyons, Hoffman, Bommer, Kennedy, & Hetrick, 2016) may have a stronger tie to CWB in international contexts. In many cases, expatriates stand out from the host-country population (e.g., due to differences in race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, language, educational level, international orientation, and so forth), and draw attention and scrutiny even outside of work. ...
... Further complicating our understanding of this relationship are the various studies showing that criminal records correlate with lower than average intelligence scores (Neisser et al., 1996) and higher levels of negative affectivity (Giordano et al., 2007). One the one hand, because these variables have also been shown to share a negative relationship with a number of valued employee behaviors such as learning motivation and non-deviant conduct (Colquitt et al., 2000;Lyons et al., 2016), it could be argued that these individuals should come into organizations and perform more poorly than their counterparts without criminal record. On the other hand, it could also be argued that stigma attached to criminal records produces a compensatory job performance effect by elevating levels of identity-related motivation. ...
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... Originally viewed as an intoxicant used only by deviant members of society, cannabis is now the most widely used illegal substance in the United States, Canada, and Europe (Beck & Legleye, 2008;Frone, 2006;Hajizadeh, 2016); this popularity translates into millions of employees who consume cannabis. Given such a state of affairs, it should be of little surprise that organizations spend billions of dollars each year (Frone, 2006;Normand et al., 1990) addressing what many believe is a problem (Bass et al., 1996;Harris, 2004;Lyons et al., 2016). Whereas some might believe steps taken by governments and organizations to screen and/or prevent cannabis use are supported by empirical evidence, "such commentary is often based on speculation, vested interests, and pseudo-science rather than on objective interpretation of all available scientific data" (Frone, 2008a, p. 519). ...
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