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Unfair Dismissal - conduct outside of work

Napthens - March 4th 2011

In the case of Gosden -v- Lifeline Project Limited, an Employment Tribunal has held that an employee’s dismissal for sending an offensive email outside of work was fair.

It has been long established that employees may be fairly dismissed for conduct outside of work provided it affects their ability to do their job. In this case, Mr Gosden had sent an email, outside working hours and from his home computer, to the home computer of a colleague. The email contained material of a racist and sexist nature and was a chain email headed with the words “It is your duty to pass this on!”. Mr Gosden’s colleague decided to forward this email on to further colleagues and the email entered the computer system of the HM Prison Service, where Mr Gosden was based. 

The employer dismissed Mr Gosden for gross misconduct for having carried out an act which might damage the company’s reputation or integrity and for having breached its equal opportunities policy. Mr Gosden brought claims in the Employment Tribunal for unfair and wrongful dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed his claims and held that it was within the range of reasonable responses for the employer to have dismissed for gross misconduct. 

This case is particularly interesting given that it involved an email sent from an employee’s home computer to another employee’s home computer outside of work. In this case the employer took care to characterise the misconduct correctly, relying on an example in its disciplinary policy for gross misconduct as including bringing the organisation into disrepute as well as being in breach of its equal opportunities policy.