The Manchester Derby match this weekend sadly hit the headlines due to racist chanting and gesturing aimed towards players. The actions were captured on TV footage and the images went viral. One man was publicly identified and comments made via Twitter to his employer. The man has been arrested and his employer has suspended him pending investigation.
Although this incident didn’t take place during work time, on work premises or at a work related event, the issues raised are such that an employer could reasonably argue that disciplinary action is appropriate if the employee has conducted himself in such a way that is not consistent with the expected standards of behaviour within your organisation (whether because it is covered by company policy or whether it is behaviour which employees knew or should know could lead to disciplinary action).
Typically, such behaviour could be regarded as that which could damage the reputation of his employer or that his conduct was such that it would have a damaging effect upon relationships with customers and colleagues.
Although every case will be different and needs to be judged on its merits, what should you do if you are faced with a similar incident?
1. Think About the Employment Relationship
Once you become aware of such an incident, carefully consider the extent to which the actions of the employee have an impact on the employment relationship in some way.
Refer to company policy or review what standards of behaviour and potential consequences the employee was or should have been aware of.
2. Suspend, in the right way
Consider whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to suspend the employee (i.e. if you believe the behaviour could amount to gross misconduct or, if you believe the attention around the workplace or potential issues with customers justifies suspension).
Make sure that the suspension is only for as long as necessary, the reasons for suspension are made clear and the employee receives full pay during the suspension.
3. Stay Neutral with the Press
If there is media interest, then your organisation will need to deal with this. Make sure that whoever does so is aware of presenting a neutral approach about the employee, so as not to affect the fairness of any workplace investigation or disciplinary action.
4. Be Clear and Impartial with Employees
There may be a great deal of speculation around the workplace so whilst it’s wise to also be open with your employees, ensure that your messaging is clear and impartial.
Remind colleagues that individual cases should not be discussed.
5. Investigate Without Delay
If an employee is held in police custody, then you may need to wait.
A workplace investigation will need to be done independently of any police investigation and may reach a different conclusion to the police, given that the police work to a different burden of proof than you do as an employer. Therefore, the outcome of any police investigation or court proceedings may not necessarily have taken place before you reach your outcome.
6. If there appears to be a case to answer, follow your usual disciplinary procedure:
- Notify employee of allegations in writing
- Hold meeting
- Decide action
- Give the right of appeal against any decision
For further advice, please visit our resource hub for employers here.