There are generally two main types of employee conduct out of work that can result in disciplinary action. Firstly, actions which directly impact the workplace because they are directed at the employer or other employees. This could include social media attacks or physical assaults as examples. Secondly, actions which cause the employer to lose trust and confidence in the employee’s ability to do their work. An example of this might be someone who handles finances being guilty of an offence of dishonesty such as theft or fraud.

If you are faced with the situation of a colleague posting nasty comments about another employee online on social networking sites, from a personal account and out of work hours you can still take action to investigate and if found to be correct to discipline the employee involved..

This is a real challenge for managers as the boundaries between work and home lives blur.

The need to take action and not ignore these events is even more apparent following reforms to Health and Safety legislation to cover mental wellbeing.

Inappropriate behavior from employees, even outside the workplace, is your business if that behavior means another employee feels threatened or uncomfortable.  In this situation your duty as the employer is to investigate and resolve the matter.  You may also need to start a formal disciplinary process against the employee posting the comments.

The difficulty is that the employee who posted the comments might say, “It’s none of your business!” and that their private life is their private life.

While those are generally fair comments, it is actually incorrect where the employee’s private affairs impact the work environment.

That is particularly apparent in the context of bullying or harassment of colleagues outside of work hours.

It is equally valid where an employee’s actions bring your business into disrepute, or make you question their ability to do their job properly (a common example being the book-keeper caught shoplifting, which is definitely a valid cause for concern).

To be able to act, the employer needs to establish a sufficient link between what occurred and the work place. An employee fighting in public, whilst in uniform, is the classic example of bringing the employer into disrepute.

The difficulty for employers is determining whether the behaviour outside of working hours is sufficiently related to the workplace.

Examples of behaviour considered sufficiently related are:

  • A pilot who was convicted of Civil Aviation Act offences relating to his actions outside of work time.
  • A union worker protesting against proposed employment legislation, using a work vehicle, and resulting in an arrest.
  • An employee’s assault of a fellow employee.
  • An employee’s assault of a client.
  • A conviction relevant to their work role.
  • A conviction or activities that bring the employer into disrepute eg. racist abuse, sexual misconduct etc.

Once you have decided to carry out a disciplinary investigation, then you need to follow all of the normal steps of that process.  Example after example we see in practice highlight that getting the process right is critical to defending your decisions if employees seek redress against you. You can find a step-by-step guide below.

Employment Disciplinary Process guide