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Can employees lose their job for the actions of relatives?

Alan Price, CEO - BrightHR

Benedict Plowden, the Director of Transport for London, has stepped down amid reports that his wife is a core member of Insulate Britain, the protest group which is causing large disruption across the city’s transport links.

It’s unclear if there is a direct link between her actions and his departure so, although pressure may have been placed on him, his resignation could be unconnected.

However, the story has opened up an interesting discussion. Can you be disciplined at work for the actions of those close to you?

No one should be pressured to resign and, if this was the case, there could be a risk of a constructive dismissal claim as Mr Plowden has worked at TFL for over 2 years.

While employers can begin disciplinary proceedings against employees due to the actions of their relatives, dismissal is another story. For someone’s employment to be terminated there needs to a fair reason as to why, and being blamed for the actions of others is unlikely to be deemed as fair.

This is not always the case, however. In 1986 a similar claim went to court where an employee was dismissed from his job after his wife was convicted of theft. In Wadley v Eager Electrical Ltd [1986] IRLR 93  the EAT accepted that such a reason might amount to SOSR (some other substantial reason, which is a fair reason for dismissal) if the wife’s conduct had genuinely led to the employer’s customers losing confidence in the employee.

For a ruling of this nature to stand, the employer needs to provide evidence that the actions of a relative/spouse has caused damage or disrepute to a company’s reputation as a result of their connection to the offender.

The only other alternative could be dismissal over a breach of conduct, but this would only apply if the employee was actively involved in the offending act. Otherwise, they cannot be held responsible for the actions of others, not matter what their relationship.

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