I am the HR director of a large retail outlet with more than 50 stores. Recently, two of our senior employees were caught having sex in one of our store changing rooms during their lunch break. We obviously find this unacceptable, but we don’t have a specific policy in place for this kind of situation. As it was during their lunch break, does that mean the rules are different? What are their rights? Also, should we make a point of communicating this to staff?
Clearly this is a conduct issue. It is entirely reasonable for you consider this type of conduct unacceptable in the workplace. The fact they were carrying out these activities during their lunch break does not mean you should not take disciplinary action. The fact remains they were on site and in one of the changing rooms. This is at least a case of misusing company facilities, acting in a manner likely to damage the good name of the company, and quite likely a breach of the company dress code and hygiene rules.
You are not breaching any of their legal rights by taking disciplinary action against them. Under the Human Rights Act 1998, there is a right to respect for privacy and family life. However, there does not appear to be any infringement here as the activities that the employees were engaged in did not take place in private but in a store to which the public had access.
It is not surprising you do not have a policy that specifically covers this type of situation. Company policies and written rules of conduct rarely contain express provisions that forbid staff to have sex in the workplace. This should not stop you from taking disciplinary action as it would be implied that such conduct is unacceptable. However, if you believe that other members of staff may be under the impression that this type of activity is acceptable in the workplace then a communication to staff to clear up this misunderstanding may be the most appropriate course of action.
Michael Ball, partner, Halliwells