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Employment law for employees & Employment law for employers

Criminal sanctions for breaking COVID lockdown rules – employment law update

Metropolitan Police announces Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have received fines for breaking of Covid-19 lockdown rules.

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The Metropolitan Police has today announced that Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, amongst others, have received fixed penalty notices (FPNs) in relation to breaking of Covid-19 lockdown rules by attending a party. It had already emerged some weeks previously that a number of government officials and political advisers had received similar notices. While the full political ramifications of the latest revelations are yet to play out this begs an interesting question as to what a responsible employer can do if they become aware that an employee has been subject to some form of criminal sanction.

Receiving a criminal sanction such as a FPN, or being charged with or convicted of a crime is not in itself an automatic reason to discipline or dismiss an employee. The employment contract and staff handbook need to be considered in relation to the potential disciplinary offence and if this was committed outside ‘work’, or while the employee was ‘off-duty’, it may be that subject to an investigation no further action is taken.

However, where the matter has some bearing on the individual’s employment or potentially brings the employer into disrepute this could result in a disciplinary sanction, including dismissal. This was the outcome of an incident that happened in June 2021 when an employee of an estate agency accosted Professor Chris Witty in a central London park and was sacked shortly thereafter. He admitted the assault and was subsequently given a suspended sentence. His employer decided not to await the outcome of the criminal proceedings, perhaps because the incident had been recorded on a mobile phone and posted on social media.

Generally, where an employee has more than two years’ service, a proper disciplinary procedure should be conducted fairly and lawfully to guard against the possibility of a successful unfair dismissal claim. If a police investigation is ongoing, it may be appropriate to adjourn any investigation until that has concluded – although this is not a formal requirement.

Whether or not the matter has a bearing on the individual’s employment is not always clear cut. Criminal activity taking place at work, or at a ‘work-related event’, could well fall into that category. A further layer of complication is where senior managers and leaders are seen to condone or even encourage behaviour that is ultimately judged to be criminal. This can lead to whistleblowing claims and have serious reputational consequences both within the organisation and more widely.

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Rhiannon Thompson

Trainee Solicitor

rhiannon.thompson@collyerbristow.com



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