The recent Australia Day off-field incident which involved an NRL Sydney Roosters (the Club) player serves a warning to both employers and employees about the dangers of alcohol and social media.
The player was filmed on camera stimulating a lewd act with a dog at a private party.
The player and some other team mates attended the party after the Club’s sanctioned Sydney Harbour cruise which took place earlier in the day had ended.
As a result of his actions, the player was fined $75,000 ($125,000 fine with $50,000 suspended) and suspended for eight weeks following an agreement between the Club and the NRL.
In this circumstance, the NRL and the Club were required to intervene and sanction the player for a variety of reasons including:
- The nature of his conduct;
- The reputational damage to the NRL and the Club – the same player had been involved in a previous off-field incident in 2014; and
- The pressure from third parties and fans – there was certainly plenty of media commentary on how and why the player should be banned from the NRL for life and that the incident would bring about the end of his career.
This incident also highlights the potential issues and / or adverse implications for employers when an employee’s inappropriate or unacceptable conduct is captured and then publicised – for example, damage to the employer’s brand (business reputation) and/or loss of customers/clients.
The candid video of the player was filmed by another partygoer without his consent and then sold to a media agency who on sold it to Channel Nine, News Corp and Fairfax. The Club sought legal advice about whether to pursue legal action against those responsible for filming and then selling the video.
Looking at this in the broader workplace context, unfortunately, the incident raises an additional consideration for employers when planning the next office work party or function – what to do about smart phones.
Should employers go as far as banning smart phone devices from the parties?
Smart phones provide ample opportunity for an employee’s embarrassing or objectionable conduct at the office party or even when the party “kicks on” to another gathering to be recorded and then shared throughout the workplace and/or via social media – often without the consent of the employee. Employers should consider cautioning all employees about the use of smart phones during work events – obviously if everyone behaves then there will be no problem and no need to consider restricting the use of smart phones or the taking of photographs at such events.
Lessons to learn
In addition to carefully planning the next event – in terms of food, drink & location – employers must ensure employees are told what is expected in terms of their behaviour and what could happen if employees fail to meet those expectations. An employer’s code of conduct should contemplate circumstances where an employee’s actions bring the organisation into disrepute – allowing the employer to step in when situations such as this one arise.
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