Labour MP Eric Joyce has been suspended by his party and charged with three counts of common assault after allegedly headbutting Conservative MP Stuart Andrew in the House of Commons Strangers’ Bar on 22 February. Police were called and it took five security officers to bring the situation under control.
Mr Joyce has been suspended by the Labour party pending the results of the police investigation, and he is due to appear in court on 9 March. Under parliamentary rules, MPs automatically lose their seat if they are sentenced to more than 12 months in jail, but there is no requirement for them to leave the Commons if they are charged with a criminal offence or convicted and given a lesser punishment.
Although MPs are not employees, this incident serves as an appropriate reminder for employers of how to deal with potentially criminal conduct involving their employees in or out of the workplace.
So what should an employer do if one of its employees is accused of brawling in a bar and charged with assault? The short answer is be careful! There is no rule that someone ought to be dismissed because they are being investigated for, charged with or have been convicted of a criminal offence. On the contrary, a dismissal may be unfair if the employer does not properly assess the impact of a criminal conviction on the employment relationship.
So, when considering disciplining an employee who is being investigated for a criminal offence, consider whether the conduct is sufficiently serious to justify instituting the disciplinary procedure.
And what about if an employee starts a fight in the workplace? Usually, it will be reasonable to dismiss an employee in such circumstances, but an employer should not take short-cuts when it comes to considering the particular circumstances of the case.