“RIM expects that its employees conduct themselves in a manner reflective of our strong principles and standards of business behaviour.” So read the press statement released by Research In Motion after last week’s news story about two of its (now former) high-flying executives who were fired for excessive drinking on an Air Canada flight. Although the story initially raised eyebrows because the plane was diverted and forced to land due to their conduct, it also poses an interesting workplace law issue because the employees were fired by RIM for their conduct – even though it occurred away from the workplace.
Generally, employees’ conduct outside of work is immune from discipline. But, in some circumstances, an employer has a right to interfere:

  • When an employer’s interests or reputation is jeopardized by an employee’s off-duty behaviour, this can be cause for immediate dismissal without pay. In the RIM case, the executives’ behaviour was immediately broadcast in the media and news, linking them back to their employer. Although RIM had no hand in their conduct, the negative publicity it faced as a result of the executives’ behaviour justified its reaction: a press release distancing itself from their actions and their prompt dismissal.
  • Criminal behaviour unrelated to the workplace but which injures or potentially injures an employer’s interests can amount to cause for dismissal. In one case, an employer successfully defended itself from a former employee who was charged with a crime, even though he was not yet convicted. The court sided with the company because of the potential damage to its reputation.
  • More recently, an Ontario court found that an employee who occupies a heightened position of trust has greater off-duty responsibilities to the employer. In that case, the employee was fired for harassing a co-worker away from work. The employee’s senior human resources position and the fact that he helped distribute harassment policies at work contributed to his failure at trial.
  • In some cases actual damage to an employer’s reputation may not be necessary if there is a potential for harm. In a notorious Canadian case, a bank teller was fired after her employer learned that she was living with a convicted bank robber. She had done nothing wrong, but she was still in a conflict of interest.

Where off-duty behaviour poses a workplace problem, it can follow you back to your desk.
Author: Daniel Lublin
Publication: Metro