Making a number of appearances in the press recently is the sad story of a trainee at US law firm Shearman & Sterling.  He was part of a group of four City workers (two lawyers and two brokers) whose emailed list of “rules” for a lads’ holiday in Dubai went viral, ending up as national news.

Because he and his fellow Musketeers have probably suffered enough (though see below) names don’t matter.  Nor in fact do the rules themselves, beyond that some were of a crude sexual nature and some were silly boasting about how wealthy their parents are.  What does matter from the employment/HR perspective, leaving aside the facts of this particular case, is what view an employer is entitled to take of such conduct.

The Lawyer website The Lawyer | Legal Jobs, News, Training & Industry Insight lists this tale as one of its most commented-upon stories, somewhat to the despair of a number of those doing the commenting.  The “advice” to S&S is pretty polarised: these are either immature little boys having an inept bit of fun, have suffered enough and no more should be said about it; or they epitomise all the worst characteristics of the nouveau riche and for that reason alone should be sacked immediately.

Even if you take the more generous view, that this is a playground stunt blown into something bigger by email, their City employers and family backgrounds, and is not gross misconduct, it does still beg another question.  Could S&S or any of the employers fairly dismiss their Musketeer on the grounds of nothing more than his overwhelming bad taste and failure to comprehend that if you put something, anything, remotely interesting on email then you might as well hand out copies at Kings Cross station?  Is that the sort of person a professional legal or insurance firm would want on its staff?  What if that catastrophic lack of judgement and self-awareness also coloured any of their actual work?  [I confess to an interest here – as a junior solicitor in pre-email days I fell down a manhole after drinking too much at a firm function.  The pain from the broken toe was transient, but the evening was the making of me professionally, catapulting me immediately into one of the best known juniors in what even then was a very large firm.] 

Context is important here – there are those who would argue that for brokers, such conduct was not just unremarkable but more or less obligatory.  However, not even the least charitable observer could claim that to be true of the law also.  Moreover, while bad taste, lack of common sense and isolated evening drunkenness are not summary dismissal material, obscenity and sexism can be.  It is the sexual component to the “holiday rules” which is the problem here, not the more-reported oafish boasting.

So dismissible?  Probably yes.  Whether S&S or any of the other employers take that stance is a separate question in view of the mixed comments made.  It is not hard to imagine nonetheless that before too long most of our four heroes will have decided “to pursue other career opportunities”, sadder but hopefully wiser as a result.