As per usual just after New Year’s Eve, the newspapers both online and in paper format were full of unflattering photos of individuals who had had too much to drink, either passed out on the ground or getting into fights. These photos are there to be seen by the nation and could cause employers some concerns that their employees’ antics cast a negative light on themselves and, consequently, the company for which they work. In a world of intense business competition, employers need to take all necessary measures to ensure their clients’ loyalty and often seek to take some action against an employee for their behaviour outside of the workplace.

Whilst it can be appropriate to discipline in these circumstances, it may not always be and the factual situation should be considered. Clearly you want to protect the interests of your business but you need to be sure that you are acting reasonably, particularly where the employee has long service with you.

There are several factors to consider when dealing with this situation. You need to consider whether there is a clear link between the employee’s job role and the nature of their behaviour outside work. You should also think about the employee’s public profile at your company. Do they have a client/customer facing role, where their relationship with the public is a critical one to the success of your business? Is the nature of your business one which is distinctly at odds with the employee’s behaviour? For example, a charity with a strong ethos of anti-alcohol and anti-violence could rightly consider that its public reputation would be affected by photos of one of its key public figures involved in drunken fighting. However, it may not be the same story with a warehouse worker with no client facing responsibility.

Unless the employee’s behaviour has the clear potential effect of damaging your reputation, or undermining your confidence in the employee, it would be likely that any dismissal would be found unfair.

Many employers cover the issue of behaviour outside of the workplace in their employee’s contracts of employment, including contractual provisions to the effect the employer expects that employees act with integrity within working hours and also expect the same standard of behaviour outside of those hours. Whilst this may act as a deterrent to employees, the enforcement of this clause would still need to be reasonable. Your actions will depend on your type of business and what it is the employee has done.

For further clarification, please call our advice service on 0800 028 2420.