When Staff Make a Pig’s Ear of Horseplay

Conversation is never dull here but one lunch-time earlier in the week focused on the Employer liability and Employee obligations that were presently facing a certain Premiership football club.  For the situation as I recall went something like this:

Player A (apparently a well known practical joker) placed - for reasons known only to him - a pigs’ head in the locker of Player B.  Player B was seemingly not offended and sought to put it back to Player A’s locker in the belief that it was he who had pulled the stunt in the first instance.  However, Player B actually placed it in Player C’s locker. Player C, for religious and cultural reasons, was not at all impressed and caused damage to Player A’s car as he too had assumed that Player A (and not Player B) had put it in his locker.

We had much discussion as to the extent of sanctions that we felt were or were not appropriate to each of them and also on some hypothetical situations too.  Amongst many questions that we asked each other was what liability would there be on the employer club if Player C demanded a transfer because of this incident and ended up at a lower league club - would the Premiership Club have to compensate for his inevitable lower wages?  

It was an interesting discussion, the concept of which can impact on any employer. At what point does a “joke” become a disciplinary offence?  What if the person actually offended was never the intended “victim” of the “joke” and what extent of foreseeability of consequence is required? Whilst we agreed that respectful workplace ‘banter’ should not be banned, employees should have the forethought to think of the reasonably foreseeable consequences that a prank could cause. What employee would think it acceptable to bring a pigs head into a shared changing room, where it could have caused offence on a number of different levels?

In light of this Employers should look to set the boundary here. It is important that whilst they cannot cover every eventuality, appropriately drafted and understandable staff policies are in place as regards employee standards, employer expectations and disciplinary processes. Moreover, that they are clearly seen to be in place, imprinted in the minds of all employees and applied fairly and evenly to all.  

The natural movement of direction of our discussion then went into another professional football club, where an unidentified employee defecated in the opposing team’s dressing room pre-match.  The question here was more of how an employer would invoke any sanction if no-one owned up to such an act?  A colleague suggested (presumably in jest) that all players and coaches should be DNA tested!  All well and good but who on earth would put their hand up (in the air) to volunteer for such a job?  After all, there is nothing worse than having to come into work and spend the day going through the motions.....

And at that point luncheon was rapidly terminated.  Sandwiches were no longer attractive and the clichés were on a downward spiral.  So we rapidly trotted back to our carcase free desks to return to the thankfully more routine of legal matters.

Published: 28 May 2013

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