December 31, 2015

Breach of Confidentiality Amounted to Gross Misconduct

In Farnan v Sunderland Association Football Club [2015] EWHC 3759 (QB), the High Court considered whether breaches of confidentiality could amount to gross misconduct justifying dismissing an employee without notice.

Mr Farnan was employed as the Marketing Director of Sunderland Football Club (the Club). The Club dismissed him without notice for gross misconduct after finding him guilty of having committed a number of breaches of confidentiality. These included (i) "banking" Club emails by sending them to his wife's email address so they could be used against the Club in any potential future litigation, (ii) sending Club presentations to third parties as part of his search for another job, and (iii) having an "off the record" conversation with a journalist about Club matters.

Mr Farnan brought proceedings against the Club, claiming that it had terminated his employment in breach of contract and was owed approximately £1 million in respect of his unpaid notice period and alleged bonus entitlement. The High Court found that Mr Farnan's actions amounted to serious and repeated breaches of the express confidentiality obligations in his contract of employment which justified his dismissal without notice. Mr Farnan's claim for breach of contract was therefore dismissed.

This case is a reminder to employers to ensure that their employment contracts contain well drafted termination clauses, including provisions allowing them to terminate without notice in the event of serious breaches of contract.

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