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Can I be sacked for something I did in my own time?

Evidence that extreme views expressed outside work can cost you your job has been illustrated in high profile cases over the last few weeks.

Labour MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, was told to stand down from the shadow cabinet by party leader Sir Keir Starmer after she shared an article on twitter containing an alleged anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

And the man reportedly responsible for the widely condemned ‘White Lives Matter’ banner, flown from a plane above a football ground was sacked from his job just days after the incident.

So too was his girlfriend who, although said not to have been involved, was allegedly later found to have posted comments on social media of ‘an abhorrently racist nature’.

The action taken in these examples clearly show just how closely what you do in your private life, in your ‘own time’, can affect your working life – and how employers can move swiftly against employees for what they deem inappropriate behaviour outside the workplace.

No apology

Millions of people watching the live TV football match between Burnley and Manchester City witnessed the banner flying incident just minutes after both teams had dropped to one knee in support of the anti-racism movement, Black Lives Matter.

The man believed to be behind the stunt also organised live streaming, posted a picture of the plane on his Facebook page and reportedly refused to apologise for his actions.

Although Lancashire Police investigated and announced that no crime had been committed, news broke just a few days later that the man had been dismissed from his job as a welder at Paradigm Precision in Burnley.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We have concluded our investigation into the conduct of one of our employees in relation to an incident at the Burnley v Manchester City match, as well as other related matters.

We have concluded there has been a break in the company’s various policies and procedures. The individual no longer works for the company.

Paradigm Precision does not condone or tolerate racism in any form and is fully committed to diversity and inclusion.”

At around the same time, the man’s girlfriend had her employment at a health and beauty salon terminated.

Social media

The power of social media is unarguable. More and more people are using it, some to share extreme opinions, and the influence of the leading social media organisations continues to grow.

News agencies increasingly post videos and statements taken from social media as a source of news, only broadening their reach and publicity.

At the same time, there is a counter trend to hold those deemed responsible for racist, divisive or offensive content to account. This was evident from the widespread condemnation of the plane banner incident, including by Burnley FC.

Zero tolerance

Employing someone who has shared unsavoury views on social media can create powerful adverse publicity for an employer.

As a result, the inappropriate use of social media is increasingly being addressed with a zero-tolerance approach.

Many employers take the view that their company’s reputation can be damaged by an employee’s inappropriate posts on public platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – even when those posts are made away from the workplace and outside normal working hours.

The plane banner dismissals attracted much attention. They demonstrate to employees that if you go to extraordinary lengths to have your racist views read by as many people as possible, you can’t be surprised when your employer publically distances themselves from those actions. It is not a leap for an employer to conclude that this behaviour warranted terminating their employment.

Specialist advice

In a nutshell, if you think a post might get you in to trouble at work, it’s better not to make it in the first place. An employee can be dismissed if the content that they share is considered to amount to gross misconduct, or where their actions risk bringing the company into disrepute.

Most cases of this nature depend very much on the facts. Comments and pictures posted online are often open to subjective interpretation; offence can differ from person to person and context can be everything. Sometimes people are dismissed unfairly for comments made on social media or for their behaviour outside work, particularly when it can’t be traced back to the employer.

Get in touch

If you are facing a disciplinary meeting at work because of something you have said, done or posted on social media or online outside the workplace, then contact Wards Solicitors’ specialist employment lawyer, Joe Nicholls: Joe.Nicholls@wards.uk.com or telephone 0117 929 2811

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UPDATE August 2020

Wards Solicitors is open and our teams continue to work on existing cases and take on new business and clients.

From early August, we are pleased to announce that we will slowly be starting to re-open some of our branches to clients, but all appointments must be pre-booked.

Availability for face-to- face meetings in branches will be limited, and remote contact with teams – via phone, email or video call – is preferred wherever possible.  Our prime concern remains the safety of our clients and our staff.

Please note that all visitors to our offices must, by law, wear a face covering.

We cannot accept drop-in appointments.

How to get in touch:

  • Please email or telephone your usual lawyer or team, or
  • Please telephone the branch most convenient to you between 9am and 5:30pm, or email info@wards.uk.com at any time and we will respond to you as soon as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you.  A list of our 11 branches is available here.

Thank you.

Wards Solicitors LLP