The internet almost broke when England lost to Italy in the Euro Finals on Sunday night – with fans keen to voice their displeasure with the missed penalties.
Unfortunately, many of the comments seen both online and offline were blatantly racist – one employee, who worked for estate agency Savills, found himself suspended by his employer the day after posting racist tweets. So can employers fire employees for posting their views online?
Andrew Crudge, Employment Law Solicitor, Trethowans LLP, told us:
“Where a racist act is committed by an employee outside of working hours, with no clear connection to the organisation, employers may be unsure what action (if any) they can take against the employee. In such circumstances, employers may be able to discipline or dismiss the employee, but this will depend on the impact of the employee’s actions on the business, as well as the wording in the company’s disciplinary policy.
“Where the employee’s conduct outside of work brings the company into disrepute (as racist or other discriminatory conduct often will), disciplinary action is likely to be justified. Similarly, if it has an impact on workplace or customer relationships, this can bring the conduct within the scope of employment.
Andrew Crudge explains that employers will be in a stronger position if their disciplinary policy covers conduct outside work:
“An employer will be in a stronger position if their disciplinary policy specifies that incidents occurring outside of work may be treated as misconduct or gross misconduct where they impact upon the business in this way. If there is no such policy wording, or if the incident has no direct impact upon the company’s reputation, an employee could potentially claim unfair dismissal if they are dismissed.
“The Savills example also highlights the need for an employer to carry out a fair and reasonable investigation into the allegations. The Savills employee has reportedly claimed that his Twitter account was hacked. An investigation should therefore look into the likelihood of this, before deciding upon appropriate action. Otherwise, a dismissed employee may have grounds for an unfair dismissal claim – even if their actions do amount to gross misconduct.
“So although employers need to act quickly to protect their reputation in these circumstances, this should not be at the expense of carrying out fair and reasonable investigation.”
As with any employment law issue, the key to protecting your business reputation is to have sound employment policies and an up to date company handbook, and to thoroughly and fairly investigate any incident which takes place.