Is it right to terminate employees for their behaviour outside of work?

The issue of whether to terminate employees for their behaviour outside of the workplace is a matter of debate. Employees' behaviour beyond work hours may have adverse effects on the company and its image, and organisations are entitled to take action.

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Today we all live in a ‘socially woke’ era, where one wrong step can put one in the spotlight zone of hashtags, boycotts, bans and cancellations. Companies and organisations are also quick to take action against those who tarnish their reputation, even outside of working hours. It’s a brave new world out there, and everyone is under check.

Whether employees should be fired for their behaviour outside the workplace is a complex and controversial question.

On the one hand, an employee’s actions outside of work may reflect poorly on the company and damage its reputation. On the other hand, an individual’s behaviour outside of work is generally considered to be their own business, and it may be unethical or illegal to terminate someone’s employment based on their personal life or what they do beyond the workplace.

In general, most employers have the right to terminate an employee for any reason that is not discriminatory or retaliatory. That means, if an employee’s behaviour outside of work is causing harm to the company, it may be grounds for termination. For instance, if an employee’s social- media posts are offensive and reflect poorly on the company, the employer may choose to terminate their employment.

“Professionalism is expected at the workplace, which entails a certain level of decorum and expected behaviour. However, it is unfortunate that some people engage in bad behaviour that can bring disrepute to themselves and their employers,”

Mahipal Nair, VP – HR, APAC & MD, Trellix

Mahipal Nair, VP – HR, APAC & MD, Trellix, is of the opinion that as a society, we have to recognise the importance of being socially responsible, organised and objective in our actions, especially at the workplace. Our actions have an impact on society and the country as a whole.

“Professionalism is expected at the workplace, which entails a certain level of decorum and expected behaviour. However, it is unfortunate that some people engage in bad behaviour that can bring disrepute to themselves and their employers,” says Nair.

Even though such incidents may happen in an individual’s personal life, they can significantly impact the image of the company they work for. It is important to remember that the company is much larger than any one individual, and there can be thousands of people employed in the organisation. Hence, people may start questioning the company’s values and ethics if an employee’s behaviour contradicts them.

“If an employee engages in illegal or illegitimate activities outside of work that could reflect poorly on the organisation, the company may choose to let them go,”

Atul Mathur, executive VP, Aditya Birla Capital

However, there are several legal and ethical considerations to take into account before deciding to terminate employees for their behaviour outside of work.

Atul Mathur, executive VP, Aditya Birla Capital, says, “If an employee engages in illegal or illegitimate activities outside of work that could reflect poorly on the organisation, the company may choose to let them go and find other suitable candidates. However, this decision can be tricky since employees also have lives outside of work, which includes interactions with potential customers.”

There are also ethical considerations to take into account. While an employee’s behaviour outside of work may be offensive or concerning, it is important to consider whether it is actually impacting their job performance or the company’s bottom line. In some cases, terminating an employee for their personal life may be seen as a violation of their privacy and could create a negative workplace culture.

According to Mathur, it’s important to note that if an employee’s actions are deemed socially unacceptable or illegal, then the company may have no choice but to terminate their employment. For instance, if a-senior-level employee in India is caught engaging in illegal activities, the company may face opposition, and it may be challenging to justify keeping that employee on board.

It’s worth considering that when it comes to private events such as parties, the company may not have a clear right or wrong answer on whether employees should be involved. It ultimately depends on the situation, and there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Overall, companies must weigh various factors when determining how to handle employees’ behaviour outside of work.

In two recent cases, companies have taken decisive action against employees who engaged in wrongful behaviour. The first case involved Shankar Mishra, the India vice president of Wells Fargo, who was dismissed by the American financial services company after reportedly urinating on a woman aboard an Air India flight.

In another case, Max Life Insurance terminated Manish Khattar, its deputy manager, and PR firm, Media Mantra fired Kamaljeet Kaur, following their arrests for the alleged torture and sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl who worked for them as a domestic help.

“If an employee engages in illegal or unethical behaviour that harms the organisation’s reputation, the law will take its course, and the company may also take action,”

Mukul Chopra, CHRO, Convegenius

Ultimately, the decision to terminate an employee for their behaviour outside of work should be made on a case-to-case basis. Employers should consider the specific circumstances of the situation and consult with legal counsel before making any decisions. If termination is deemed necessary, employers should ensure that all applicable laws and procedures are followed and the decision is clearly communicated to the concerned employee.

Mukul Chopra, CHRO, Convegenius, opines that every situation has multiple perspectives, and in an organisation, there are employees who have both positive and negative qualities.

“The definition of good or bad behaviour is subjective. If an employee engages in illegal or unethical behaviour that harms the organisation’s reputation, the law will take its course, and the company may also take action,” points out Chopra.

He also explains that despite being referred to as ‘family’, there are certain standards of conduct that employees are expected to adhere to. “In some cases, organisations may distance themselves from employees involved in accidents or road-rage incidents to avoid negative publicity. Ultimately, the goal is to protect the organisation’s image,” says Chopra.

Terminating employees for their behaviour outside of work, in accordance with applicable laws and procedures and after clearly communicating the decision, can be quite tricky and controversial. While employers may have the right to terminate employees for any reason that is not discriminatory or retaliatory, the legal and ethical implications of such decisions cannot be overlooked. Employers need to take legal advice and consider the specific circumstances of the situation before arriving at a decision.

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