I Just Found Out an Employee has an OnlyFans. Now What?

Art by @karyssaleigh via Instagram

Byline: Written by Vinciane de Pape, DEI Advisor at Bloom

Dear Bloom,

I’m an HR manager at a small startup. I’m friends with a lot of my fellow employees and we all follow each other on Instagram. One day I noticed a tagline on an employee’s image: “Link in bio for more”. I clicked out of curiosity. Turns out, it was to their OnlyFans, which advertised a lot of “sexy” pictures and videos behind the paywall.

What should I do? Ignore it? Say something? I’ve heard a lot of news about OnlyFans lately. I thought sex content wasn’t allowed on OnlyFans anymore? I don’t think we explicitly have a policy against sex work, but it’s also my job to protect the company’s reputation. I’m feeling really stuck here.

Sincerely,

A Very Confused HR Manager

________

Well, Confused HR Manager (CHRM, for short), you’re in an interesting — but not entirely unique — situation. Over one million people use OnlyFans to share images and videos with paying subscribers, so chances are a lot of companies have employees with OnlyFans accounts, whether they know it or not. Yes, OnlyFans tried to announce a ban on sexually explicit content. But then they rescinded the ban after massive backlash, so this is something you will still have to deal with.

Here are my thoughts on the whole thing — and what I think you can do about it.

There are many reasons why someone may have an OnlyFans account (or use similar platforms like JustForFans or 4MyFans). For some, it’s an outlet for sexual reclamation and empowerment. For others, it’s an important source of income. Whatever the reason may be, OnlyFans gained an enormous amount of popularity in the last year and many people are choosing to build followings on the platform, including workers who have a regular 9-to-5 job.

Then we get to the nature of your employee’s OnlyFans: it’s a digitally delivered form of sex work.

The truth is that sex work is the oldest profession, dating back centuries. Due to moral judgments and puritanism, this profession has been pushed to the margins and has rarely, if ever, been recognized as a “real” job. At Bloom, however, we firmly believe that sex work is work.

While the internet has enabled many more people to participate in sex work, it is still highly stigmatized. This brings us back to the situation in question.

If we remove morality from the equation, your employee simply has a side gig. With the rise of the gig economy, side hustles are becoming more and more common (recently, Dolly Parton even rewrote her iconic “9 to 5” in an ad for Squarespace to reflect the “5 to 9” side gigs many people are starting).

In the side-hustle sense of the term, having an OnlyFans is similar to selling candles in an Etsy store, monetizing subscription-based services through Patreon, or setting up a table at your local farmer’s market on weekends. The only difference is that we ascribe moral judgment to one and not the others.

A common rebuttal to this that the difference is in what is being sold — sex workers “sell their bodies” to generate income. To us, this argument doesn’t make sex work different from other professions. Stonemasons, firefighters, roofers, steelworkers, not to mention professional dancers and athletes, also “sell their bodies” for money. Or, more specifically in all cases, these people sell what their bodies can produce through labour. We, as a society, simply place more value on one kind of labour over the other.

So, what do you do?

There are a few ways to handle this situation as an HR practitioner

Option 1: Do nothing (Our recommended option)

What employees do in their off-hours is their business. As long as the employee is not using company time or resources to create content on OnlyFans, this is what we recommend.

Option 2: Ask them to keep their socials private

If there is a social media policy or a brand reputation-policy in the employee handbook, you can ask the individual to keep any mention of their OnlyFans off public-facing social media accounts. Many people who have an OnlyFans use separate, private accounts with pseudonyms to advertise their accounts, so this is not uncommon practice nor would it be an entirely unknown request to someone in the OnlyFans community.

Option 3: If options 1 and 2 aren’t possible, be consistent

If you ban employees from having OnlyFans accounts, this ban must be applied consistently across all side gigs. We don’t recommend this approach because banning all side hustles could result in talent leaving your business, as more people than ever have side hustles. Further, it may be illegal in your jurisdiction to ban someone from doing work they are qualified for.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of the skills that sex workers employ are highly valuable and sought-after in the mainstream job market: creativity, innovation, flexibility, agility, self-reliance, marketing savvy, entrepreneurship, and more. These are things that should be encouraged, not banned.

With three options in front of you, CHRM, I hope you find one that feels good for you and takes into account the fact that your colleague having an OnlyFans does not make them any less human, any less valuable, or any less capable of doing their job.

While certain technicalities need to be met, for instance, no filming on company property and continuing to deliver in their day job, you’re fundamentally dealing with an employee side hustle. If you keep that framing in mind, you can talk objectively about what needs to happen versus guiding the conversation from a point of confusion or personal feelings.

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