Last night, I watched the middle half of The Dark Knight Rises (the final Christian Bale Batman movie). It wasn’t planned and we didn’t even finish the move as it was part of a social evening with guests which ended in a random film to half chat over. However, there was one scene which caught…
Christmas is here! Why do I say that? Well, partly because I watched Elf last night (and if you’re a big Elf fan, I recommend my blog on Buddy the Elf here) and, also, because I’ve got tickets to visit Friends Fest in London and Love Actually at the cinema within the next week –…
Right, so I like a good blog on employment law-related topics and, in this blog, I’m looking to blog about employee blogging, even if those blogs are about blogs (or not blogs at all). Clear? Of course not, the only near guaranteed thing is that, by now, the word ‘blog’ has probably started to lose meaning in that way that words do when constantly repeated.
On a slightly more serious side, this article is about what happens when an employee publishes content (whether on social media, within physical media (including a local or national newspaper) or within personal blogs) that potentially harms the reputation of their employer. Where is the line drawn between innocent, harmless blog and, on the other hand, an online article or post that seriously harms the business of an employer?
As per the above title, I briefly covered this topic around 4 years ago in a past blog post. That article mentioned the rather quirky case of Walters v Asda Stores, heard in 2008, in which a manager jokingly (I hope!) posted a message stating that, whilst she was supposed to love her customers, hitting them with a pickaxe would make her much happier… The Employment Tribunal found that Asda had focused too much on the mere fact she was a Manager rather than considering other factors (such as, I would image, how many people would have seen the post, would those people have actually thought she was being serious and/or would people really judge Asda for staff members occasionally making slightly inappropriate jokey remarks outside work) and ruled that the dismissal was unfair.
It’s official. I’m a fully signed up member of Sky TV. I get to indulge in the football, my wife gets US dramas and we both get the F1. My family’s view? That we’ve ‘gone posh’… Yes, Sky TV is viewed with incredulous eyes within our family clan.
Why do I suddenly sound like a satellite TV salesman? Well, recently, on a whim, I recorded a program about the 1969 moon landing on the TV, which was excellent and marked the 50 year anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. One of the most fascinating aspects of the show concerned interviews with NASA engineers who knew that one incorrect/flawed part on the shuttle could lead to mission failure and/or the deaths of the astronauts in front of the watching world. In fact, such were the risks that President Nixon had a printed speech ready in the event the astronauts died.
What does this have to do with employment law? Well, unbeknown to some, it is possible to dismiss a member of staff for ‘gross negligence’ and, being an employment law aficionado, the programme set me to thinking about this little-used reason for dismissal.>
Another week, another news story related to Donald Trump albeit, this time, definitely not ‘fake news’. In summary, an unknown individual leaked a diplomatic cable from Sir Kim Darroch, the UK Ambassador to the USA, in which Sir Kim called President Trump “insecure” and “incompetent”.
Following this, and without an absence of irony, President Trump then demonstrated that alleged insecurity by announcing that his administration would no longer speak with Sir Kim and, long story cut short, Sir Kim resigned his position.
Rather than focus on the political side of things, this story is interesting because it reflects a common fear of many employers, namely an employee leaking highly confidential information to hurt them. In this case, it is very likely that a civil service or staff member leaked the information to hurt Sir Kim’s position (and, in that sense, they were ultimately successful!)
Let’s have a quick look at the employment law impact of a similar situation. So, within our hypothetical example, we have Rule Britannia Mugs Ltd, who sell British branded mugs to other countries. Their biggest customer is White House Trading PLC in the USA, who love mugs displaying pictures of red telephone boxes, London buses and union flags! However, an employee leaks an email from the Finance Director within which the Director states ‘we needn’t worry about quality, Americans will buy any old tat’ and it becomes viral on social media. What happens next?
It’s fair to say that Ryanair aren’t strangers to controversy. Whether it be their pricing strategy, public statements or otherwise, they seem to attract publicity for many reasons, whether good or bad.
Given their nature for publicity, it was perhaps predictable that the media (and social media) would seemingly target Ryanair for dismissing six staff members photographed sleeping on the floor of a crewroom in a Spanish airport. Indeed, on the face of it, it seems bizarre to punish staff who were ‘forced’ to sleep on the floor.
However, as with most situations, there is more to the story than the headline would suggest and, dig a bit deeper, and it seems that Ryanair may actually have had legal grounds for dismissing the six staff members for Gross Misconduct based on the publicised facts.
Now, as a starting point, naturally, you can’t dismiss staff for sleeping on a floor. That would be ludicrous and completely unfair. But, in this case, that isn’t why Ryanair dismissed their staff members.
So, why did Ryanair sack them? What’s the big difference? Well, put simply, Ryanair believe that the staff members ‘staged’ the photograph and did so with a view to damaging their reputation. And, whilst people are perhaps inclined to automatically distrust the public statements of big companies in situations like this (and, instead, support the ‘underdog’), it appears that Ryanair has a point.
How can anyone judge this? Well, put simply, because Ryanair published a CCTV video online showing the staff standing or sitting around and then appearing to agree to the taking of a photograph. All the staff members then move over and arrange themselves in a close formation on the floor before an individual takes a photograph of them lying on the floor (which they weren’t doing before).
I regularly get asked: “how far does employment law go?” It seems an odd question to ask but I understand that most employers simply mean: “can you investigate nearly every type of poor behaviour” to which my answer is normally “yes!”
There has been a widely reported news story this week that largely explains my usual response. Namely, this concerns the story of a van driver who was immediately dismissed for driving through puddles and intentionally soaking pedestrians in Ottawa, Canada.
As with many situations involving professional drivers, the misconduct was caught via the dashcam of another vehicle. In this case, the vehicle in front had a ‘bootcam’ recording events behind the vehicle which recorded a 40 second clip of the van driver in question intentionally swerving into large puddles (which he could have easily and safely avoided) in order to soak three pedestrians in a row. As evidence goes, there is practically no other reasonable interpretation for the video (which remains available online). Naturally, the video was quickly viewed by nearly 1 million people and the matter was also referred to the Canadian Police. The employer concerned quickly announced that the individual had been dismissed and, in turn, the Police praised the employer for acting decisively and announced that they wouldn’t take any further action further to the loss of employment.
Now, obviously, the above-mentioned events occurred in Canada, so the real question is whether the same thing would happen over here, particularly given that employment law rights are viewed as being more favourable to employees on this side of the pond.
It is well known that dismissal can result from a single matter which is usually found to amount to gross misconduct, or as the result of more than one event, with the prior matters resulting in written warnings and/or a final written warning. Indeed, most disciplinary procedures outline this process and generally include examples of what will normally be treated as gross misconduct.
However, in Quintiles Commercial UK v Barongo the question for the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was whether it was fair for Quintiles to dismiss Mr Barongo for conduct which was initially classified as gross misconduct but subsequently downgraded to serious misconduct.
Quintiles supplies staff for pharmaceutical companies. Mr Barongo started working for them in October 2012 and was latterly engaged to sell drugs for Astra Zeneca. On 5 January 2016 he was dismissed on notice on two grounds. First, he had failed complete Astra Zeneca’s compliance training course by the deadline of 3 November 2015 and, second, failing to attend their compulsory training course on 19 November 2015. Mr Barongo did not deny the allegations and he also accepted that they amounted to misconduct on his part. However, he contended that he had been dealing with other matters. He said that he had not intentionally failed to engage with the training but he had chosen to priorities other matters. This had been at a time when he was on a performance improvement plan.
There was a disciplinary hearing conducted with his line manager which took place by telephone. As the EAT pointed out, conducting the hearing by phone might not have been best practice but it was not in itself unfair. His line manager concluded that the duty of trust and confidence which ought to exist between employer and employee had been broken and, as a result, Mr Barongo was dismissed on notice, for gross misconduct.
He appealed against the decision and the appeal was heard by one of the employer’s directors, Mr Athey, who took the view that there had been a breach of the duty of trust and confidence, but that it amounted to serious rather than gross misconduct.
Mr Barongo submitted a claim of unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal took the view that the downgrading of the misconduct from gross to serious was highly significant:
When we advise SMEs that are contemplating steps which might lead to the termination of an employee’s employment, one of the first steps is to establish one of the “potentially fair reasons” for dismissal. As most readers will know they are (1) conduct or misconduct, (2) capability or performance, (3) redundancy, (4) to avoid breaking…
The judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Mrs B Tykocki v Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust concerns the standards to be applied when carrying out a disciplinary investigation and whether failure to follow procedures can of itself render a dismissal as unfair. Mrs Barbara Tykocki worked for the Trust as a…