You've undoubtedly heard of the recent high-profile cases where individuals have behaved very badly in their private lives, leading to discipline or termination from their jobs. These incidents also highlighted some do's and don'ts for employers on how to handle these difficult situations. A few examples:
Ray Rice suspended indefinitely from NFL for spousal abuse
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee (now wife) in the face, knocking her unconscious, at an Atlantic City hotel in February 2014. He was arrested and subsequently indicted for 3rd degree aggravated assault, but avoided prosecution by being approved for a pretrial intervention program and attending anger management counseling. The NFL initially suspended him for two games in July, but the ongoing controversy and additional video footage of the assault led them to suspend him indefinitely as of September 8th. He is currently appealing the decision. (Source: ABC News)
Another NFL star gets into legal hot water
Following an indictment on a felony count of reckless or negligent injury to a child after whipping his 4-year-old son, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was first cleared to play in an upcoming game against New Orleans and then placed on the NFL's exempt list as of Sep 17th. This bars him from all team activities until his child abuse case is resolved - however he will continue to earn his salary. (Source: ESPN)
U.S. CEO faces public fury for mistreating dog in elevator
Catering company CEO Desmond Hague was captured on video repeatedly kicking a puppy in an elevator in British Columbia. Public outrage after the video was publicized led to apologies from Hague and a requirement to donate $100,000 to charity and complete 1,000 hours of community service. Continued calls to boycott the company led Hague to resign earlier this month. The company quickly replaced him with a new CEO. (Source: CTV Vancouver)
Tricky questions for HR managers
These controversial cases highlight a number of tricky questions for HR managers when faced with an employee who has behaved inappropriately or illegally outside of the work environment:
The Canadian perspective:
Because most states in the U.S are "employment-at-will" states, an employer does not need a reason to fire an employee and is free to do so at any time regardless of reason. In this type of employment arrangement, engaging in immoral or unethical conduct outside the workplace could be grounds for termination. (Source)
However, according to Clear Path's Anna Aceto-Guerin, “this is far from reality in Ontario.”
Can an Ontario employer terminate someone for behaviour outside of the workplace? The answer is… it’s complicated. Ontario is not a “fire at will” province and unfortunately there is no blanket answer to this question. You need to look at the facts of each individual case and assess the risk in each situation. It is often challenging for an employer in Ontario to terminate “for cause” even when there are clearly documented performance issues. Attempting to terminate someone “for cause” for behaviour outside of the workplace can be exponentially trickier.
Acts both criminal (arrested for a DUI, possession of child pornography, child abuse or domestic violence) and those deemed “immoral” by an employer (involvement in an extramarital affair, affiliation with a controversial organization) may cause an employer to want to remove someone from the organization, even if the employee’s actions took place exclusively outside of the workplace. The question becomes whether or not they can terminate “for cause” and not have to pay out the appropriate termination pay and/or severance.
Some things for an employer to consideration include:
Long story short, this process should be handled with careful thought and the advice of HR and/or legal professionals. You can contact the team at Clear Path for advice for any of your HR questions.
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