Can an employee be dismissed without notice because of a pornographic email they sent five years ago?
'Yes', says the High Court.
The employee was a technical director at Leeds United Football Club. On 23 July 2013 the employer gave notice of redundancy to the employee. The employer then wrote to him alleging that he had committed an act of gross misconduct, by forwarding a pornographic email to a junior female colleague and to another person outside the football club, five years previously. Following a disciplinary hearing the employee was found guilty of gross misconduct and was dismissed without notice.
The High Court's decision
The High Court said that:
The High Court held that the email had left the football club vulnerable to both harassment claims and negative press which had the potential to damage the club's reputation. The employee's conduct was sufficiently serious and had damaged the relationship of trust and confidence between the parties. This breach of the employment contract entitled the employer to dismiss the employee without notice.
This case is a rare example of a situation where an employer has successfully relied upon a breach of the relationship of mutual trust and confidence. In this case, the employee's senior role and the fact that the employer was a football club and vulnerable to public and media attention were key to the decision.
Employers should also note that this was a High Court case in which the issue was whether the employee was entitled to be paid his notice moneys, rather than a case of unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. Employment Tribunal cases on misuse of company email and internet tend to put greater weight on the question of whether the employee had access to company email and internet use policies.
For more on the decision, click here.
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