One of my directors recently told me that a senior employee has a very strong affiliation with an extreme political group which would certainly offend much of our client base, as well as other employees. In all areas of his work, however, he is a model employee who has worked with us for many years. I fear for the reputation of my business if his beliefs were to come out into the open, and I have also received complaints from other members of staff. Does the law allow me to dismiss him?
You have the right to protect the reputation of your company and take action to prevent non-compliance with equal opportunities legislation by your staff.
This could include dismissing your employee if you decided that their affiliation with an extreme political group or related conduct within or outside of your company could cause damaging external reputational risks or give rise to claims against the company by other staff members or clients.
To help determine the nature and extent of your employee's involvement with the political group and conduct in the workplace, you should first fully investigate the information given to you by your fellow director as well as the complaints from other staff members.
For any dismissal to be fair in the UK, you would need a fair reason and to have acted reasonably to justify dismissing the employee. In your case, dismissal on grounds of reputational risk or potentially misconduct could qualify.
However, there is a risk that your employee could bring a successful claim for unfair dismissal and discrimination on grounds of his political beliefs under the Equality Act, if a tribunal decided the reason or way you dealt with the dismissal was not fair or reasonable or that your employee's support for the political group qualified as a philosophical belief.
This Q&A was written for and first featured in the Financial Times.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.