Can I Discipline an Employee Who Has Broken the Rules on Socialising Over Christmas?

December 15, 2020


With Christmas fast approaching, the UK at the moment seems to be taking the decision to harmonise its COVID-19 restrictions over the festive period.

The current rules are being eased in order to make it possible for families to spend time together within limits; however, for some individuals the rules may not go far enough and the potential for these rules to be broken remains.

The rules currently proposed are that up to three households can mix to form a ‘bubble’ in private homes but cannot go out together, for example to a pub or restaurant. This is for the period from 23 to 27 December.

For employers, concerns will remain that some staff may flout the rules over this period, leading to an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace or business disruption if employees have to self-isolate as a result. But can employers discipline staff for breaches that are outside of work and working hours?

The general rule is that an employee’s actions outside of the workplace can amount to misconduct if there is a connection to their employment. For example, if an employee is posting pictures of themselves flouting the rules on a social media profile which mentions their employer, this could have the potential to jeopardise the employer’s business and reputation. However, in the COVID-19 era, the employer’s concerns may be wider than this due to the health and safety consequences of rule breaches.

Below are some important considerations when dealing with a situation of this nature:

  1. Tell your employees in advance what you expect from them over the Christmas period and what the ramifications could be for breaches. You could reiterate your policies on health and safety, social media and conduct and plan ahead to the period after Christmas, informing employees of working patterns and shifts.

  2. Before starting any disciplinary process, evaluate whether the action is appropriate to the circumstances. Depending on the severity of each case, it may be appropriate to simply have a conversation with the employee about the context in which the rules were broken and explain the concerns you may have regarding this. It will be important to assess each situation on its own facts.

  3. If you feel that formal disciplinary action is necessary then make sure you follow your disciplinary policy and procedure, ensuring they are up to date to deal with COVID-19 (for example, you may need to hold hearings remotely rather than in person).




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