08 March 2011 #Employment
Actor Charlie Sheen has reportedly been fired from the hit US sitcom Two and a Half Men by Warner Bros Television. This will not come as much of surprise to anyone who has seen the very public negative comments that he has made about his employer and his colleagues over the past few weeks.
Before his dismissal, Mr Sheen was reported to be the highest paid actor on US TV earning $2 million per episode. Production of his hit show was suspended in January after Mr Sheen entered rehabilitation for alleged reported drug and alcohol abuse.
The BBC website reports that Warner Bros have issued a statement saying "After careful consideration, Warner Bros Television has terminated Charlie Sheen`s services on Two and a Half Men effective immediately,".
So what can employers do to protect themselves from disgruntled employees like Mr Sheen who make derogatory public statements about them?
Employers should ensure that they have clear policies in place regarding internet usage and social/other media which clearly sets out that such actions will be deemed gross misconduct. In each case you should consider the severity of the comments made, as dismissal will not always be a reasonable response to negative comments. If the comment is sufficiently serious, and your policy properly communicated, the dismissal of such employees is likely to be reasonable so long as a fair procedure is followed.
Employers should note however, especially if the conduct appears out of character, that they should be sure to check that the conduct has not been caused by a disability such as stress or depression as it may be unfair and/or discriminatory to dismiss in such circumstances (as can be seen in our previous blog about an employee who posted negative comments on Facebook being unfairly dismissed). Drink and drug addictions are expressly excluded from the Equality Act protection for disabled people, however if an underlying impairment has caused the addiction this is likely to be covered.
Employers may also be able to take civil action against an employee, in particular for defamation. Defamation is "the publication of a statement which tends to lower the subject in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally." If a comment is true it cannot be defamatory. It is very expensive to pursue defamation proceeding in the UK and such actions fail more often than not. It is therefore advisable for employers to pursue other informal remedies such as contacting the media in which the comment was published and asking for the comment to be removed, or requesting that the individual themselves remove the post.
For more information regarding defamation and other potential civil remedies please contact the Clarkslegal Civil Litigation team.