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Can Off-Duty Conduct Lead to Workplace Punishment?

There are many acts or omissions employees can do at the workplace that may lead them to be disciplined—but what happens when conduct occurs outside of the workplace? As we gear up to celebrate another year together with holiday office parties, or potentially by spending time away from the office, a popular question becomes even more relevant: Can employees be punished for things they said or did off-duty?

It is possible.

However, using off-duty conduct as a justification for summary dismissal will only be permitted in rare circumstances.

Factors which assist in determining whether conduct outside of the workplace warrants discipline or dismissal revolve around whether the company’s reputation or product were harmed, whether the off-duty conduct hinders that employee’s or other employees’ ability to perform their duties, and whether other employees are unable or unwilling to work with the offending employee.

Employers must still be cautious not to discipline or dismiss an employee for off-duty conduct without taking the appropriate steps, which often includes a proper investigation. An employer should also prudently weigh whether the alleged conduct was related to the workplace or employees, and whether there is a real concern of the offending employee continuing within their position.

While employers may believe it is sufficient to dismiss or discipline an employee because criminal charges were laid against the employee outside of work, criminal charges alone are not a sufficient reason.

Due to social media, employers arguably have more opportunities to catch employees engaging in unbecoming off-duty conduct. However, not all misconduct warrants discipline. Even if discipline may be warranted, an employer must ensure they have proper, reliable evidence prior to making any disciplinary decisions.

On the other hand, employees should understand their off-duty conduct may negatively impact their workplace, and should be reminded that the line between workplace and off-duty professionalism expectations is often blurred. Simply put, off-duty conduct has the ability to affect places of business, and therefore a level of accountability is expected.

If you are an employer who wants to understand how to navigate their employee’s off-duty conduct, or an  employee who has been disciplined for your off-duty conduct, our team of experienced employment lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone at (800) 771-7882, or email at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.



Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call (800)771-7882, or email [email protected].