22 May 2014 #Employment
The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore is not to face action from the Premier League or the FA, for sexist comments contained in private emails, leaked to the media by a former PA. In the emails derogatory comments concerning women were made, reportedly including referring to women as “broads”. The Premier League stated that it accepted Mr Scudamore’s apology, ‘In these circumstances and in the light of a previously unblemished record over 15 years of service to the Premier League, the clubs resolved unanimously that no further disciplinary action is required or justified.’
Mr Scudamore’s former PA is reported to have felt feeling obliged to reveal the crude messages to the press. She said, ‘I can’t understand how the Premier League can claim their investigation is “rigorous” when they have never asked to interview me for my views or experience. Surely, as the person who felt they had no choice but to blow the whistle on what was happening, I should have been their first port of call.’
There appears to have been an issue as to whether the PA had proper access to the emails, which were claimed to be private.
In Mr Scudamore’s apology, he described the email content as an “error of judgement”. The premier league clubs said the emails contained inappropriate remarks but declined to take disciplinary action while the FA has also confirmed that it will take no action. FA Chairman Greg Dyke commenting that the FA does not consider the content of private emails to form professional misconduct.
Employers are not obliged to disregard conduct or offensive comments contained in emails (or posted on social networking sites), simply because it is ostensibly ‘private’ or takes place outside the workplace. Whether disciplinary action up to and including dismissal can fairly be taken is however less clear cut when the comments were made privately, compared to conduct at work.
Relevant considerations include the nature of the comments, the status and role of the employee and whether they could be viewed as being incompatible with carrying out that role. For example comments by those holding customer facing, welfare roles or those in particularly senior roles within an organisation, may if made public bring the organisation into considerable disrepute or breach the implied duty of trust and confidence owed to the employer.
As employers may also be held vicariously liable for harassment and discrimination by their employees, equalities training and clear social media policies, covering email correspondence, should be put in place to make clear the approach that employers will take to misconduct in both the professional and private spheres.
Ann Marie Burke
Carillion Advice Services, seconded to Clarkslegal LLP