Legal experts warn against taking disciplinary action at work over domestic violence

KPMG and the NHS have been warned to tread carefully after they announced plans to sack staff over violent personal relationships that affect work.

The organisations are among 300 that have joined the government-backed Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence. But both have gone beyond the alliance’s policy template by threatening to discipline employees who harass their partners or ex-partners.

Legal experts have warned that employers must be wary of breaching employment law when investigating such abuse as, legally, this well-meaning defence may not be enough.

Smair Soor, employment barrister at law firm 7 Bedford Row, said: “If the sole aim of disciplining a perpetrator of domestic violence is the well-meaning objective of protecting the victim, the employer may be in difficulties.”

The NHS draft policy states that staff should be aware that conduct outside work could lead to disciplinary action because of its impact on the employment relationship. And professional services giant KPMG has warned that workers could be disciplined for using work resources to harass someone.

Soor said these cases would be permitted by law as staff could bring the company into disrepute, providing a business reason for dismissal. But Adam Turner, employment lawyer at law firm Lovells, said KPMG could still fall foul of data protection laws.

“Companies cannot randomly check through staff e-mails and phone calls,” he told Personnel Today.

“The Information Commissioner recommends that employers carry out an impact assessment of their actions and ensure there are no other options. Otherwise they are open to all sorts of criminal and civil charges.”


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