Bringing the company into disrepute

As an employer, you are directly responsible for your employees’ conduct when they are at work – when they are on the company’s premises or during their working hours. However, it is quite difficult for you to control your employees’ actions outside of work.

Although your company shouldn’t be held accountable for the misconduct of your employees when they are not at work, there are instances where your employee’s conduct outside of work may affect your company’s reputation. This is commonly referred to as bringing the company into disrepute.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if your employees’ behaviour outside work amounts to a disciplinary offence. Therefore, you are expected to include a clause in your employees’ contracts, defining the behaviors that amount to bringing the company into disrepute.

Common conducts that could bring your company into disrepute

Sexual misconduct

Your employees will bring your company into disrepute if they engage in improper sexual conduct outside of work. For instance, if your accountant or sales manager is caught engaging in an illicit affair that is subsequently reported in the newspapers, they will be deemed to have brought your company into disrepute.

Nonetheless, mere disapproval of your employee’s conduct outside of work is not always sufficient to effectively discipline them or terminate their contract on the grounds of bringing your company into disrepute. Therefore, you need to seek legal advice, from a qualified and experienced employment lawyer, on the grounds to dismiss or discipline your employees when they bring your company into disrepute.

A good example is the 2003 case involving a probation officer and his employer. The officer had taken his employer to court, claiming that he had been unlawfully dismissed for allegedly being involved in sadomasochistic sexual activities. The probation officer argued that his dismissal was in contravention of his privacy rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of his employer, insisting that the interference with his Article 8 rights was warranted given the nature of his work and because he worked with sex offenders.

Offensive social media posts

In this era of social media, your company is at risk of getting a bad reputation if you don’t have control over what your employees post on their private accounts. Many companies in Europe are now preventing their employees from using social media on work-related devices like phones, tablets, and computers.

You need to make it clear to your employees that what they post on their social media pages will have consequences, whether they post it while at work or outside of work. A good example is the case of Preece v. JD Wetherspoons plc (2010). While working as a manager at Wetherspoons pub, Miss Preece was abused by two customers. She also received an abusive call from the daughter of one of the customers.

While at work, Miss Preece posted a derogatory message on her Facebook account. The customer’s daughter saw the post and decided to report it to Wetherspoons. After a disciplinary proceeding, Miss Preece was dismissed on the basis that she brought her company into disrepute.

What to do if you are concerned about an employee’s conduct

If you believe that an employee’s conduct might bring your company into disrepute, you need to thoroughly investigate the alleged conduct while considering the role of the employee. You also need to be careful not to initiate a disciplinary proceeding solely based on personal disapproval of your employee’s conduct while they’re outside of work. Doing so might expose you and your company to claims of discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Finally, make sure you follow any contractual disciplinary provisions while complying with your formal disciplinary and grievance policies and procedures. You also need a good lawyer to investigate the claims of bringing your company to disrepute before you initiate any legal or disciplinary proceedings.

For further reading, check out our other articles like Understanding an anti-embarrassment clause and How to add a director to a company.

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