Employees Bringing a Company into Disrepute

The personal lives of employees

When an individual is employed in a certain job the employer will have control over that employee when they are at work, during working hours and on the particular premises where they undertake their job.

It is extremely difficult for an employer legally to control the actions of that employee outside of their employment. Often there is also little reason why an employer would wish to do this. However, the notion of an employee bringing the company into disrepute following actions in their personal life is one situation when this may occur.

Bringing the Company into disrepute

Often employers will ensure that specific clauses are contained in the contract of employment for all members of staff for a particular company which will enable employers to terminate an employee, should their conduct outside work bring the employer into disrepute.

What is meant by bringing the employer into disrepute?

Bringing the employer into disrepute is taken to mean the situation whereby conduct by an employee outside of the workplace becomes apparent and due to their employment within a particular job, that conduct becomes associated with that employer.

However, employers should always ensure that they proceed with caution when considering whether conduct outside of work will be a disciplinary offence.

What kind of conduct is likely to be deemed as bringing the company into disrepute?

The most likely kind of conduct which has been deemed as bringing the company into disrepute is sexual conduct. This is often something which can happen to certain professional footballers who live their lives in the public eye. For example a recent case involving a professional football who was caught having an affair which was subsequently reported in the newspapers was deemed to have brought his club into disrepute as this occurred while abroad representing the club on a foreign tour.

However, another player playing for the same football club was not found to be bringing the club into disrepute following an affair which although reported in the media, did not happen while representing the club.

Is this a disciplinary offence that is likely to occur in relation to everyday jobs or is it one simply concerned with high profile jobs such as sportspeople?

Many may think that this is simply an offence that applies to high profile media figures, but this is not always the case. Often it can apply to individuals in everyday professions, but usually the conduct is of a sexual nature.

What sexual conduct would be regarded serious enough to constitute bringing an employer into disrepute?

There have been two high profile cases involving female employees engaged in conduct outside of their work which was of a sexual nature.

One of the employees was an airline stewardess who also worked as an actress in the pornographic film industry. In this case the employer stated that what the employees did in their own time was completely up to them and therefore no claim was brought against the employee.

The other case dealt with a primary school teacher who posed for photographs which were featured on a website for glamour models. In the second case the employee’s conduct was held to have brought her employer into disrepute considering her role within the school. The teacher was subject to disciplinary proceedings but was not fired. However, it was stated that she would have been fired if the website was pornographic.

These two cases highlight the point that each case in relation to this area of law will have to be treated on its own merits. The actual conduct by the employee must be taken into consideration alongside the actual job that the employee is employed to do.

As an employer what should I ensure I do in these circumstances?

If an employer has to deal with a potential case of an employee bringing the company into disrepute they will be required to fully investigate the conduct taking into consideration the role of the employee.

However, an employer should be careful not to instigate disciplinary proceedings based solely on their personal disapproval of the employee’s out of work conduct. If an employer were to do this they may be opening themselves up to a claim of discrimination and / or unfair dismissal.

What else should an employer consider in these circumstances?

Employers should also make sure that they follow any contractual disciplinary procedures which are in place. If they do not do this then they may open themselves up to a claim of breach of contract.

Furthermore, when an employer is implementing contractual disciplinary procedures they should ensure that they adhere to the minimum standards set out in the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievances.