On the web, everyone can see if you go off the rails and if it affects your company brand, you are in double trouble

Key Points:

    Bad behaviour outside the workplace can have an impact within it.

Hot on the heels of the Scarlette stripper scandal, the Chiefs landed themselves in hot water recently after aiming expletives at two female parking wardens.

The Chiefs' management moved quickly to dampen the fire and the players were forced to make an apology - albeit a somewhat watered down version, given management claims that the cursing wasn't aimed at the wardens.

Bad behaviour outside of the workplace (be it the rugby field or the office) has become harder to ignore in the age of social smartphones and social media. It's all too easy for misdemeanours to be reported on Facebook (and even mainstream media if the perpetrator is well-known) and those close to the wrongdoer subject to guilt by association.


This can be a major issue for employers.

Employees are brand representatives and if their behaviour doesn't adhere to company values the brand can suffer.

We've all read the sorry tales of employees gone rogue - from ex CIA head David Petraeus' affair with his biographer in the United States to Losi Filipo's off-field violence in Wellington, there is a plethora of high-profile incidents proving that wrongdoing in private can impact on the workplace.

In the Filipo example Wellington Rugby's reputation suffered immensely from the scandal; their lack of action provoking even the most dyed-in-the-wool Lion's fan to rethink their allegiance to the club.

This is an extreme case, undoubtedly, and necessitated action. But where does private life end and work life begin when it comes to bad behaviour outside of workplace?

Alan Pettersen is the director of human resources company Positive People and says that for action to be taken against an employee there needs to be a link between the misdemeanour and the employee's workplace.

"There needs to be a clear link between the employee's conduct and the employee's job and whether these actions could damage any aspect of the business, including its reputation," he says.

He says there are a number of areas that could be adversely affected by an employee's actions.


"Management needs to take into consideration whether the conduct has a negative impact or effect on the obligations the employee has to other employees, whether the conduct is incompatible with the employee's job and therefore could negatively impact their ability to do their job properly, and whether the conduct undermines the trust and confidence between the employee and employer."

He says that before any action is taken it needs to be clearly demonstrated that a misdemeanour has or will affect impact on any of these areas.

In earlier times a scuffle in the pub or a moan about a manager could occur in private; in our age of social media and internet such things are far more likely to be captured on video or shared on social media.

Pettersen agrees that social media has become a major player when it comes to indiscretions outside the workplace.

There are innumerable ways in which technology can be used and abused my employees; he urges people to be very careful about what they share online.

"The rapid growth in social media has resulted in situations where employees are publically critical of their employer, management or colleagues," he says.

Pettersen says that in other cases the safety of other employees may be compromised because of the harassing or threatening nature of certain Facebook or Twitter posts, or employees may be caught out skiving off to the beach when they were meant to be off sick.

"Other examples of misuse of social media would be divulging sensitive information or where the conduct was inconsistent with the values the organisation espouses," he says.

Technology has blurred the lines between the home and the workplace (especially when people are based outside of the office) and that employees need to be mindful of what is appropriate conduct outside the official workplace.

But this cuts both ways; he says that employers need to respect the privacy of their employees, unless given reason to question their employees' private conduct.

If an employer feels that an employee has acted in a way that negatively impacted their company ethos or brand, there are a number of ways they can proceed.

"Once a link between the conduct of the employee and their job is established, then prior to any decision being taken as to what action to take, a fair disciplinary process needs to be conducted," explains Pettersen.

He says that it is good practice to have expected standards of behaviour outside the workplace clearly spelt out in an employment agreement. This gives teeth to any disciplinary action taken and help to clear up any ambiguity that may arise in the process.

"While being particularly true of organisations who are sensitive to public opinion, it applies equally to other organisations," he says.

"In what can be a grey area, it is also useful to have some guidelines to assist employees with their out of work conduct."

Senior staff and those with a public profile need to be particular careful of their conduct outside of work. Anthony Weiner is a prime example of how misconduct outside of work can have major implications on a workplace reputation (the profligate sexter was caught out three times sending salacious images to women).

Closer to home Len Brown's affair with Bevan Chuang also impacted dramatically on his role as mayor of Auckland.

Pettersen says caution pays when you are in the pubic eye.

"Those in management, professional and senior public office roles are advised to be cautious with their conduct outside the workplace because media attention is more likely to be focused on them than more junior people," he explains.

As negative media attention can spell PR disaster for an organisation (the Chiefs and the Lions have both suffered from their players' out-of-work actions) any indiscretion by a senior figure outside of work is likely to attract a lot of attention.

"Media attention often does focus on the senior people in society," Pettersen says, "and this is equally true of the reporting of both positive and negative conduct."