Reputational Damage: How employers can manage the risks and the steps required to protect their company

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Earlier this year we looked at the impact of employees’ activities on social media.

However, we often find that employers are faced with situations where their employees have taken part in activities which cause their positions within the company to become untenable. This is something our very own Health Secretary found out to his detriment when he was alleged to have breached the very social distancing guidelines, he was imploring the British public to adhere to.

What can employers do when the activities of their workforce threaten to cause significant reputational damage or impact on their job role?

Activities which occur during working hours

This is perhaps the most straightforward scenario.

For example, if an employee was involved in a violent road rage incident with a member of the public and this took place in your company vehicle, which has your company logo emblazoned on the side and during their working hours, it may not only result in criminal proceedings against the employee, but it could cost them their job.

Why? The main issue here and the allegation which is likely to cause them to lose their job, is their violent conduct, which is likely to be classed as gross misconduct and could result in a summary dismissal. See our gross misconduct guide (read more).

We can’t ignore how their activities could adversely affect your company reputation, after all the member of the public is very likely to lodge a complaint with you, which will form part of the disciplinary action.

In addition to this, the case may attract interest from the local and (depending on the severity) national press- this negative publicity could result in lost business. So, this aspect of the employee’s conduct is equally important.

Outside working hours?

Consider the example above but this time it occurred outside working hours.

If the employee was still in your vehicle, then the fact it was outside their working hours, doesn’t mean you can’t take action against them but what if they were in their own vehicle, on their own time?

Let’s look at some possibilities:

  1. Their actions result in them losing their driving licence and they are employed solely as a driver. Consequently, this statutory restriction would be the reason they lose their job rather than their violent conduct. A fair procedure would still need to be followed prior to any dismissal.
  2. They do not lose their licence or face any criminal proceedings but dash cam footage emerges on social media which identifies your employee and also identifies them as a member of your staff.

This prompts a major client of yours to state that they do want this employee to work on any of their jobs. Unfortunately, they will not reconsider their position on this and this accounts for most of the work this employee does. This leaves you in a situation where you may be in a position to terminate the employee’s contract (again following a fair procedure) on account of the pressure of a third party (i.e., your client) to remove this employee from any of their contracts and you have no other work to offer them. This would be a dismissal for ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR), not reputational damage arising from their violent conduct.

  1. They do not lose their licence, nor do they face any criminal proceedings and the matter hasn’t caused you any problems with your client base.

However, you are concerned by the footage which has emerged on social media. Your staff have seen it and have raised concerns about working with this person and you also feel that their conduct is simply at odds with the ethos of your company.

You have interviewed the employee and they don’t appear to understand your concerns, they are blaming the other driver and have said they would do it again without hesitation!

You may be able to remove this employee from their role, again following a fair procedure and on the grounds of SOSR, namely that the relationship between the company and this employee has broken down.

What can we take away from this?

The issue of reputational damage is complex.

There is a real danger in dismissing someone from their employment before or in anticipation that their conduct impacts on your reputation. It is also vital that you take advice from us and investigate the issue fairly because as you can see from the above examples, reputational damage can often send you down a bit of a rabbit hole, when in fact there are often other factors to consider.

That is not to say that this isn’t something employers should think about, especially during times where social media and reviews are integral aspects of business success but as always, the key to managing this lies in effective communication. So make sure that your staff are aware of the disciplinary rules and procedures and the standards of behaviour you expect from them both in and outside the workplace.

Next week- we will look at dismissal for ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR) in more detail.

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Elena Boura