Following his recent bare-buff billiards debacle, it was rumoured that Prince Harry would be disciplined by the army for his off-the-clock antics. This got us to thinking- and not about the Prince’s crown jewels, before you ask! With the advent of social media, more and more employers are finding out about what their employees get up to in their own time as the lines between our public and private lives become increasingly blurry.
Now, few of us will be found posting pictures of naked frolics in Vegas hotel rooms on our Facebook pages of a Saturday night, but there are times when employees’ bad behaviour becomes public knowledge and the employer may be keen to take disciplinary action. Whether or not this is appropriate will depend on the circumstances, but there are a few key points to bear in mind.
As a starting point, employers should bear in mind that in most cases it will not be appropriate to discipline for things that happen outside work. In other words, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. However, if the incident has an impact on the employee’s ability to do their job, then disciplinary action (even dismissal) could be warranted. For example, if a delivery driver is caught drink-driving when off duty and has his licence taken away as a result, dismissal will most likely be fair
And what about if Judy from accounting pulls a sickie doing her best Darth Vader death-scene impersonation, only for you to find out through Facebook that she’s actually off down t’bingo with the gals? Again, even though the misconduct has taken place outside of work, taking disciplinary action is probably going to be fine.
The key is that there has to be some sort of connection to the workplace. Sometimes employers will find out information that may lower the employee in their estimation, and attempt to rely on fairly nebulous grounds such as “bringing the company into disrepute” and “a breakdown of trust and confidence” in order to dismiss. However, in the absence of anything calling into question the employee’s ability to carry out their work, such a dismissal is unlikely to be fair.
So, while Harry’s front-page (un)coverage might have caused his military superiors to groan into their morning papers, it is unlikely that they will be able to take any serious disciplinary action as a result.