Most employees and workers would tell their employer that what they do or say outside of the workplace is a private matter and not the concern of their employer. But, of course, that is not always the case. Some behaviours can impact the reputation of the employer and as such should not be tolerated.
Take, for example, the racist abuse that was posted in the social media following the Euros finals. Most employers would not wish to employ someone with those views, and they certainly wouldn’t want their customers or clients to know that they are employing someone who publically expresses abhorrent views.
Having a robust Equal Opportunities Policy and a supporting Disciplinary Policy provides all that is necessary to invoke disciplinary procedures against a member of staff who has behaved in a discriminatory manner – even outside of the workplace – if it poses a risk to your organisation.
Your Equal Opportunities Policy should explicitly state that any discriminatory behaviour outside of the workplace, and in particular postings on social media, that risk bringing your organisation into disrepute will be a disciplinary matter.
Provide each member of your staff with a copy of your Equal Opportunities Policy and get them to sign it as evidence that they have read and understood the policy. This will help to prevent the “I didn’t know” defence should you ever need to discipline someone for discriminatory behaviour.
If such a matter comes to your attention you need to act swiftly, but not hastily. Obtain the evidence and inform the individual that they are under investigation. Interview the individual and hear their side of the story. Take notes and provide a copy to the individual as a means of ensuring that the notes are accurate and not misleading.
If you decide to hold a disciplinary hearing remember that the member of staff has a right to be accompanied by a work colleague or a Trade Union Representative (Employment Relations Act 1999). You should provide the member of staff with your bundle of evidence a few days before the hearing so they have time to put together their defence. You are also legally obliged to provide an appeals process which should be heard by someone who has not been involved in the disciplinary hearing.
If you have to defend an unfair dismissal claim then undertaking a fair and reasonable process is vitally important to your success.
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