Sending lewd emails is grounds for dismissal
In Williams v Leeds United Football Club, the High Court held that an employer was entitled to summarily dismiss an employee who was already serving 12 months’ notice of redundancy, when it discovered that, five years previously, he had forwarded a pornographic email to a junior colleague and two external contacts. The employer was entitled to treat this conduct as a repudiation of the contract of employment, despite the fact that it was looking for a reason to justify immediate dismissal.
A number of points arise from this case:-
- Forwarding a lewd email to ex-colleagues outside of the company may not be sufficient for summary dismissal;
- Forwarding an email to a junior colleague may be sufficiently serious to warrant summary dismissal, particularly as it could give rise to a claim for sexual harassment;
- It does not necessarily matter how long it was between the sending of the lewd email and the employer finding out and subsequently summarily dismissing the employee, provided the employer has not affirmed or waived the repudiatory breach by the employee;
- It does not necessarily matter that the employer’s underlying reason for dismissal was to save money (as Williams was serving a 12 month notice period following notice of redundancy).
The case transcript can be found here.
For employment law students, this was not an unfair dismissal claim, but a wrongful dismissal claim. The claimant had made a claim as he was entitled to notice pay of £200,000, which was his annual salary.