Coronavirus: Employer’s resource centre — live guidance available here

Don’t Be A Cat! Avoiding the Pitfalls of Conference Calls

BY David Mitchell
Employment Law & HR

A US lawyer recently went viral, falling foul of the type of technical difficulties which can trap the unwary in this Work from Home era after getting stuck in a kitten filter during a Zoom hearing of the 394th Judicial District Court of Texas. Rod Ponton even felt the need to inform Judge Roy B. Ferguson that he was, in fact, not a cat after his kitten filter was accidentally activated during the virtual court hearing.


As Mr Ponton spoke, the cartoon cat’s eyes and mouth moved, much to the bemusement of the other lawyers and the judge on the call as the incident unfolded. “Mr Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings,” observed judge Ferguson with a dryness reminiscent of the late great Scottish comedian, Chic Murray.

“Can you hear me judge?” a clearly flustered Ponton replied from behind the cat facade.

Struggling to remove the feline filter, Mr Ponton bravely soldiered on: “I’m prepared to go forward with it. I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”

Thankfully, the 394th Judicial District Court saw the funny side of Mr Ponton’s conference call cat-astrophe and posted the video on YouTube, purring about the “Kitten Zoom Filter Mishap”. Presiding Judge Ferguson even showed he had a keen sense of humour and an ability to accentuate the positive by tweeting that such “fun moments are a by-product of the legal profession's dedication to ensuring that the justice system continues to function in these tough times. Everyone involved handled it with dignity, and the filtered lawyer showed incredible grace. True professionalism all around!”, although perhaps not entirely the “true professionalism” Mr Ponton wished to convey in a court hearing!


Other individuals may not be so fortunate, and it is vital to remember that, although employees may be working from the comfort of their own home, forgetting to treat such virtual meetings as an extension of the workplace may mean that Not Safe For Work behaviour or remarks of an indecent, profane or discriminatory nature, no matter how unintentional, can lead to people, including employers, going viral for all the wrong reasons. Employees could face serious consequences such as disciplinary hearings or even dismissal, and employers can suffer significant reputational damage if they can easily be identified alongside any negative publicity which, in this instantaneous electronic age, can spread very quickly indeed.


Mr Ponton can at least be grateful that his IT faux pas gave the world some much needed comic relief in these troubled times and himself little more than mild embarrassment and worldwide fame even if probably only for the late artist Andy Warhol’s regulation fifteen minutes.


Therefore, employers reminding their staff of their workplace policies, emphasising the importance of professionalism when on conference calls - such wearing appropriate clothing - and being proactive in making sure employees have adequate IT equipment and support to minimise technical mishaps or get rid of cat filters, should ensure that Working from Home need not be a cat-astrophe.

© Copyright of Law At Work 2021 Law At Work is part of Marlowe plc’s employee relations division