When ‘it’s my right to sue’ blinds employees to their own wrongdoing

Is your business at risk from employees who are so focused on their legal rights including their right to sue their employer, that they are blinded to the part they themselves played in their own downfall?

A couple of weeks ago I read of an employee bringing a constructive dismissal case against his employer and at the same time suing for data protection breaches after finding his work emails had been monitored for several months.

If media reports are true, the ‘employee’ appears to have just begun a life of self-employment, so I find it bizarre he chooses this moment in his career to take his employer to tribunal, given the circumstances around his departure. As a highly qualified professional he hopefully considered all the consequences of his actions ahead of taking the actions he took, especially as it appears he himself brought this case to the media’s attention – I know they say that all publicity is good publicity, but surely that is not the case if your reputation is important and you are hitting the tabloids?

What of course has put him in the media spotlight is that his constructive dismissal focuses on his company’s actions following the discovery that he had been involved in a spanking session in the office with a junior colleague.

Whether safe words had been exchanged on company emails is neither here nor there, the reality is that he appears to have behaved in a way at work that no professional company owner, director, trustee or shareholder would consider appropriate. Sexual activity at work is inappropriate and sexual activity at work with someone considerably more junior, is also pretty idiotic given the #MeToo movement. Publicly suing his employer for constructive dismissal and data protection breaches just when he is launching a self-employed career seems such an odd way to deal with the situation and smacks of someone who has singularly failed to see the bigger picture.

So why would a highly qualified and experienced legal professional bring an employment tribunal claim that doesn’t really portray him in a light you might expect of a self employed professional. I’m curious…is suing his past employer more important that protecting his own image? Is the money he might get a greater draw than worrying about what fee earning he might lose as a result of the way he has been portrayed in the press? Is legal action today worth the potential consequences on your career for the next 20 years?

You might say I’m a prude and in today’s permissive world it doesn’t matter what his sexual activities are or even that he took those into the workplace, but experience tells me that it does matter and that people have long memories, even with the new data protection Right to be Forgotten.

Recently, I posted what I thought was a bit of light hearted humour in my WhatsApp group chat with my friends. After my post, one of them told me that humour from me was inappropriate as people expect more of me than they do of themselves or others, given the job I do. That seemed a bit harsh, but it was something of a wakeup call as I had no idea my friends had different standards for me than they have for themselves – hugely different standards given what I had posted compared with what others frequently post.

But I can’t ignore the reality of it and, on reflection, I have seen that time and time again across the years, standards are expected of me as an HR business owner that are simply not expected of others. I think society probably has quite a high bar in respect of the standards expected of most professionals and senior people in the workplace and, in the case of the employee referred to earlier, just because you have the means and knowledge to sue, doesn’t mean that that is always a sensible course of action.

He said he was ‘appalled’ to find out his employer was monitoring his emails. His potential clients might be equally ‘appalled’ at his decision to air his sexual proclivities in public just because he wants to sue his ex-employer when his life and career had already moved on.

The cost of making a point can be such an expensive one – both in monetary and reputational terms. In this case, I suspect it will be the employee who comes off worse, especially when it comes to reputation. But it can be a strange old world full of double standards, so perhaps not?

So, do you have any employees determined to make a point? Do you have any directors determined to prove a point? After 20 years in business my advice would be take a few moments to think through the price of ‘a point’ and take a commercial rather than emotional or egotistical view in respect of the right way forward.

Oh, and if everyone in your ‘group’ of supporters, be they friends, colleagues or board members, is telling you that you are right to take the stance you are taking, just take a few minutes to read about Group Think. As the saying goes ‘when we all think alike, then no one is thinking…’

Thoughts, ideas please leave your comments below.

This is a personal blog written by Helen Jamieson. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Jaluch Ltd. The views and opinions posted in response to this blog are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Helen Jamieson or Jaluch Ltd. Jaluch Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of the information within this blog.

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