15 November 2013 #Employment
It has been reported that five prison officers from Wandsworth Prison in South London have been disciplined by their employer for wearing t-shirts with the words “We have Madeleine McCann” printed on them whilst on a boys’ night out.
The Prison Service was alerted to photographs of the officers on Facebook some two months after the photographs originally appeared on the site.
One of the officers has reportedly been dismissed following this incident.
This case highlights that employers do occasionally have to address issues that arise outside of the course of employment as well as those within it and there have been several cases in the Employment Tribunals involving the dismissal of employees for their actions outside of work.
An employer may be able to dismiss fairly on the basis that such actions have bought the employer into disrepute or caused reputational damage.
Last year, the Court of Appeal held that there had been a fair dismissal when a senior civil servant was dismissed after his employer discovered he was being investigated for sexually abusing children. The dismissal was found to be fair because of the reputational risk to the employer despite the fact that the employee denied the allegations, was not convicted and the allegations were not directly relevant to his work (Leach v Office of Communications 2012 ICR 1269 CA).
The prison officers’ behaviour is a clear reminder to employees that their actions outside of work can have serious repercussions for their employment. It is also a reminder that damage can be easily amplified by social media, such as Facebook, which can display any such actions to a much wider audience.