Five Workplace Lessons from Reese Witherspoon’s Arrest

The dash cam video of Reese Witherspoon’s recent arrest is racing across the internet at warp speed, and it’s a cringe-worthy primer on how to take a bad situation and make it much, much worse.

This type of ill-advised and career-damaging behavior isn't just limited to tipsy actresses in Atlanta parking lots. It can happen in the office, too, most typically, when someone inserts themselves, uninvited, into a workplace discussion and ratchets up the rhetoric to code-red.

Butt out” is the primary lesson from the Witherspoon video, but there are other takeaways as well. Watch her dash cam follies, and follow our advice below to avoid your own “Reese moment.”

Avoid compromising situations. 
A friend of mine tells the story of a workplace happy hour where an invitation to “wrestle” turned into a supervisor breaking a collarbone. Really? Office wrestling? Sometimes you have to know when to walk away. Alcohol blurs judgment (it certainly seemed to with Ms. Witherspoon) so even when alcohol is available in a work-sanctioned setting, don’t overindulge, and avoid invitations to do stupid things—like wrestle your boss.

Follow simple instructions. Workplaces thrive on people telling other people what to do. Someone tells you to clean your old food out of the fridge. The IT guy tells you to change your password. The sales manager says make 50 outbound calls a day. The indignant “Reese” side of your brain wants to tell all of these people to go take a flying leap. "Do you know my name, sir?”  But you need to ignore that impulse and just follow simple instructions—especially from authority figures. “Ma’am, get back in that car.”  Ninety nine times out of 100 that will serve you well—and it may just keep you out of jail.

Don’t lie. “I’m pregnant and I need to use the restroom,” Witherspoon tells the arresting officer. Not cool. Especially since Witherspoon later told Good Morning America, “I’m not pregnant. I said all kinds of crazy things.” If you miss a meeting or drop the ball on a project or your boss asks you point blank about a screw-up, you might be tempted to try to lie your way out of it, but don’t do it. If you build a reputation as someone who stretches the truth or can’t be trusted, it sticks to you and follows you throughout your career. Just like a dash cam video.

Acknowledge mistakes.  Of course, if you do lie, obstruct an arresting officer or simply miss a sales forecast, the path to rehabilitating your reputation in the workplace or in life starts with contrition. We all make mistakes, and admitting them quickly and candidly humanizes us. If you’re a leader in your company, your team appreciates it when you acknowledge chinks in your armor, make a sincere apology and pledge to do better. Reese is doing just that, and who knows, after the dust settles, she may be able to put this episode behind her and once again reclaim the title of America’s Sweetheart.

Now if she would only apologize for “Legally Blonde 2.”