An incident at this weekend’s FA Cup final has again shone the spotlight on bad behaviour at football matches. One man made headlines and went viral when the football shirt he was wearing caught the attention of the nation – for all the wrong reasons.
He was photographed wearing a white Manchester United shirt with offensive writing on the back relating to the Hillsborough disaster. Photos posted online caused outrage, though Wembley stadium security and police took swift action, arresting the man and charging him with displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress.
His face and name are now splashed across social media for all to see, including employers, raising the question of what impact this behaviour would have on an individual’s work life.
Is an employer justified in taking action against employees involved in this kind of scandal, even if the behaviour occurred outside of working hours and the workplace?
Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR, says:
“Usually, an employee is entitled to spend their time outside of work doing as they wish. But when that includes unruly, offensive, or criminal behaviour that could disrepute an employer, they may need to get involved. Sometimes, in extreme cases, they may decide continued employment is untenable.
“But before any action is taken, it’s important to carry out a full and fair investigation. This would need to consider the role the employee holds within the company, the severity of their behaviour, and whether they were identifiable at the time – for instance, if they were wearing a company uniform, or if their workplace is listed on their social media profiles.
“Actions that cast a shadow on an individual’s integrity in the workplace will likely lead to disciplinary action, and potentially dismissal, as a regular conduct issue would. After all, high-profile heinous intentions outside of work will not sit well with colleagues or clients. Continuing to employ the person concerned could cause further issues, as well as potentially bring the company into disrepute.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a rise recently in high-profile incidents at sporting events. Last year, a pitch invader made headlines when he attacked Nottingham Forest players in their match against Leicester City. Racial abuse was directed at Bolton Wanderer’s players and coaching staff at their match in Morecambe the very same week. And two Rotherham supporters were also arrested after an Accrington Stanley player was assaulted in the 88th minute of their match.
“It goes without saying that, given how quickly a post can spread on social media, with more public exposure comes more risk for your business’ reputation. It is important to distinguish between a viral post that shows an embarrassing moment we wish would stay private, and one that features serious anti-social behaviour, which should never be excused.
“An employee letting their hair down – no matter how embarrassed they may be after the fact – is less likely to lead to disciplinary action, whereas the behaviour seen this weekend probably will. And if the man involved owns his own business, then who knows the damage that has been caused, both to his employees and the company’s reputation.”
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.