A recent sports case illustrates important legal points. A high profile rugby player posted a photo of a team mates’ unclad posterior on his twitter account. His club and employer dismissed him for gross misconduct.

The player claimed wrongful dismissal and was awarded £167,000.00 in damages.

High Court claim

The claim was brought in the High Court and for wrongful rather than unfair dismissal. The amount awarded for unfair dismissal is capped. This claim was higher than the cap.

However, High Court claims are riskier. If the player lost, he would face paying the club’s costs. Generally, Employment Tribunal claims don’t result in adverse cost awards.

Fundamental breach of contract

Dismissal for gross misconduct requires a fundamental breach of contract. So the club claimed that posting the photo was a fundamental breach. We are surprised they believed this.  There was evidence that the club was seeking to reduce their wage bill.

Social media risks

The case highlights the risk of social media. The club may have believed they were within their rights to dismiss based on somewhat analogous cases. Social media activity has resulted in dismissals. However the activity was racist or homophobic.

Future loss of earnings

The amount awarded accounted for actual,  and a degree of future loss of earnings. Note the player had a duty to mitigate his loss by seeking alternative employment. His claim for future loss succeeded, because he argued the dismissal hampered his reputation and employability.

In the context of a sportsman, this is interesting. Afterall the primary reason for their employment is sporting prowess. It indicates a trend that even professional sports organisations select staff, not just on sporting prowess criteria, but also potential non-sporting risk.

 

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