Could you be disciplined for signing up to a Reality TV Show?

Hitting the headlines recently was the story of ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock joining the cast of ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’. Matt Hancock was subsequently suspended from parliament.

Although politicians are not subject to the same employment contract obligations as most people, would an employer be able to dismiss an employee for this sort of conduct outside the workplace? Could you be suspended or ultimately dismissed for appearing on a reality TV show?

Suspected Misconduct

When there is suspected misconduct, employers will often consider suspending an employee. In other words, telling the employee to temporarily stop carrying out work (but to still be paid) in order for a disciplinary investigation to be carried out. When an employer decides to suspend an employee, they should consider the situation carefully before deciding if suspension is necessary.

Often an employee will be suspended in order to avoid them interfering with the investigation, or where there is a real risk of harm to the business, but it cannot be a “knee jerk” reaction. Regardless, an employer must follow the Acas Code of Practice.

If an employee’s actions outside the workplace have the potential to damage the reputation of the employer, or if the conduct outside of work has some other bearing on the employment relationship (perhaps impacting on relations with colleagues or customers), then this will understandably concern the employer.

Concerns about conduct outside the workplace could range from criminal behaviour to inappropriate use of social media outside of work, where the employee makes comments about the employer’s business, or customers, or expresses discriminatory views with which the employer does not want to be associated.

As with conduct in the workplace itself, any disciplinary action taken in response to conduct outside the workplace must be reasonable, there must be a proper process, and any dismissal must fall within the “band of reasonable responses” open to a reasonable employer.  The employer needs to identify why the conduct outside the workplace is relevant to the employment.  It may not be!

So, could you be suspended or ultimately dismissed for appearing on a reality TV show? The short answer is yes. However, if you are dismissed for conduct outside of the workplace which does not affect your ability to do your job, and does not affect the reputation of your company, then there may be scope for an unfair dismissal claim, subject to having the necessary qualifying service.

Minimising reputational harm

To minimise the risk of reputational harm and protect themselves and their employees, employers should regularly review their code of conduct, social media policy and disciplinary policy to ensure that these are up to date, extensive and well-communicated to all employees. 

When it comes to reputational harm, prevention is better than cure!

Contact our team of expert employment lawyers for further advice on this difficult topic.

This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

Laura Salmond, Partner & Accredited Specialist in Employment Law: / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Laura

Emelia Conner, Trainee Solicitor: / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Emelia