When Everton footballer Wayne Rooney was arrested for drunk driving in the early hours of 1st September, the media coverage was swift and intense. From ELAS employment law consultant, Enrique Garcia.
Many papers focused on Laura Simpson, the woman whose car he was in, and her life has been the subject of media scrutiny. Paparazzi have camped out in front of her house and followed her to work with details including her job title and wage being splashed across the front pages. She has also reportedly started a new job in the midst of this coverage with pictures of her arriving at work featuring heavily in the press coverage.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman has said that he is “very disappointed” by Rooney’s actions and that “he will be dealt with internally at the appropriate time”. While the letting company Simpson works for has so far managed to keep their name out of the press, the media attention is sure to have had an impact. “Damaging the reputation of a business can be considered gross misconduct and, as such, it is important to act appropriately should you receive reports or evidence that one of your employees could have done so. This could be as a result of something that happened on the job e.g. making a mistake on a client site, on social media e.g. saying adverse comments about the employer/managers on Facebook or outside of work e.g. causing the employer’s name to be dragged through the mud because of your actions.
In cases where an employee has less than 2 years service, or 1 year in Northern Ireland, this is relatively easy. These employees cannot claim unfair dismissal, so as long as the employer is not acting against a protected reason e.g. whistle-blowing or discrimination, then there is little chance of repercussion. In cases where an employee has more than two years’ service, the employer has to ensure that any dismissal is fair by demonstrating that the offence committed was serious, following a fair procedure and ensuring that the outcome is reasonable in all the circumstances.
Where an employee acts in a particular way that generates press interest and where the press are disrupting the company business and the actions of the employee have caused this, depending on the facts, a dismissal may be justified. Each case will turn on its own merits. In this case, if it is true that Ms Simpson has just started a new job, as suggested in the media, then it is likely that she would have little comeback if her employer decided to take action.
The company name is not in the public domain as far as we are aware so, at this point, reputational damage may be minimal. The disruption to other employees and/or clients may be higher but we have no way of knowing what is happening behind the scenes.”