Bringing an employer into disrepute23/08/2018
The recent high profile cases of Ben Stokes (England Cricketer) and Danny Cipriani, (England International Rugby Union player) have brought into focus, once more, the concept of bringing an employer into disrepute.
In both of these cases involving well-known sportsmen, the incidents effectively occurred outside of their workplace, that is away from the sporting arena, and instead in what appears to be predominantly a social setting.
The key proviso in both cases is that the individuals will be subject to a contract of employment, as well as other overarching agreements with their respective sporting governing bodies. Within these contracts will be provisions dealing with a prohibition on bringing the “game into disrepute”. More likely than not, they will also have some form of good behaviour clause in place as well. These kinds of clauses are not uncommon for high profile figures and are put in place in order to ensure that behaviour outside of the sporting arena does not impact on the reputation, brand or public perception of the relevant governing body. Clearly there is a scale of seriousness in these scenarios and a whole different range of outcomes which can arise as a result, in terms of the legal sanctions and indeed their professional careers.
Arguably, the incident regarding Stokes was deemed to be more high profile and serious because it proceeded all the way to the Crown Court trial, whilst issues involving Cipriani were dealt with relatively quickly and involved a fine following a guilty plea regarding certain elements of the charges, whilst others were dropped.
Although the extra-curricular behaviour of an employee who is not of the same high-profile of these individuals is unlikely to make the headlines, it is still possible that their conduct may bring their respective employer into disrepute. This can involve situations at work functions and business development events where individuals are still representing their employer and act in such a manner that could bring their employer’s reputation into question. Common examples often involve employees being intoxicated and verbally or physically abusive. Because of the impact this behaviour may have on their employer’s reputation and name, this could lead to disciplinary proceedings and, in some cases where the behaviour constitutes gross misconduct, dismissal.
In addition, and with the explosion and increasing use of social media, a common feature in many employment contracts and social media policies are provisions prohibiting individuals from making posts on social media that may bring their employer in disrepute and often cover both social medial activity during, and post employment. In all these cases, clear contractual terms and policies (including disciplinary and social media policies) should make it clear what type of behaviour would constitute “bringing an employer into disrepute”. Having such guidelines in place should ensure that all parties are aware of the required standard of behaviour in any work related context; whether in a scenario more obviously connected with the workplace (e.g. hosting a client event or a weekday lunchtime) or a situation that appears to be more of a social function (e.g. a staff Christmas party or a staff get together).
As with many areas of employment law, clear guidance should always be in a place in advance and a proper procedure followed and documented if issues do arise in order to ensure that any eventual decision can be properly supported and scrutinised if required.
If you require any further assistance in relation to this matter or any other aspect of Employment Law please contact Nick Smith, Head of Employment on 0191 212 7739 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Robyn Aisbitt, Associate Employment Solicitor on 0191 212 7717 or email@example.com