The news about John Galliano’s alleged racist and anti-semitic outburst in a bar in Paris is a stark reminder to employees that their actions outside work can impact upon their employment.
Although Galliano was not at work or at a work event when the incident is alleged to have happened, Christian Dior has reacted quickly to the news of his arrest immediately suspending him from his role as its head designer. Christian Dior has also made clear that his contract will be terminated if the allegations are upheld.
In the UK it is possible for an employer to dismiss an employee on the basis that his actions even outside work are so unacceptable that they have brought the employer into disrepute i.e. that the employer’s reputation has been or could be damaged simply by being connected to the employee.
This is particularly relevant for employees holding senior or high profile positions, such as John Galliano who is effectively the face of Christian Dior and indeed was front cover material in the Sunday Times just a week or so earlier billed (by himself) as “the most normal person in fashion”. Oops.
Senior level service agreements will often expressly state that the employee can be dismissed summarily if the employer reasonably concludes that by his actions it has brought the employer into disrepute, but it is not always the case that the employee needs to hold a prominent or senior level role. An employer may also be able to dismiss more junior employees on the same grounds, particularly where they have committed a serious criminal offence, with or without a provision in the contract.
Some words of caution to employers though – as is always the case, the ability to dismiss fairly for activities outside the workplace will obviously depend on the particular circumstances and will still require the employer to follow a proper procedure before dismissing. This is one instance where you should definitely consider seeking professional HR or legal advice before acting.