March 31, 2015

Sending Pornographic Images was Gross Misconduct Even Though Not Discovered For Several Years

In Williams v Leeds United Football Club [2015] EWHC 376 (QB), the High Court considered whether sending pornographic images from a work e-mail amounted to gross misconduct which would justify termination without notice, even though the conduct was not discovered for several years.

Mr Williams had been employed by Leeds United Football Club as a technical manager. In 2013, as part of a restructuring process, the Club gave him notice of termination for redundancy. At the same time, it discovered that in 2008 he had sent pornographic images via his work e-mail to a friend at another club. The Club claimed this amounted to gross misconduct and terminated him without notice. After his termination, it transpired he had also sent the e-mail to a junior, female employee. Mr Williams brought a claim for breach of contract in respect of his notice period. The High Court held that his actions in sending the pornographic images amounted to gross misconduct which justified his termination without notice. The Court considered it particularly significant that he had held a senior management position, sent the images to a junior, female employee and put the reputation of the Club at risk. The Club was entitled to rely on these events despite the fact that they had occurred several years earlier and some had only been discovered after termination of employment. It also did not matter that the Club had been actively seeking evidence to avoid giving him his contractual notice.

While this was a good result for the employer in the present case, it should be noted more generally that employers will not be able to rely on the same principles to defend statutory unfair dismissal claims.

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