Football clubs always seem to generate ‘juicy’ employment cases. Recently
there has been a case involving Sunderland Association Football Club where
the Club’s International and National Marketing Director, a Mr Farnan, was
suspended by the Club. They then trawled through his work emails. Having
done so, they found evidence that he had been ‘banking’ confidential
information about sponsorship bids which he had been sending to his wife’s
private email. He said he had been doing that in relation to genuine work
and admin support but the Club argued and the Court agreed that he had done
so to keep a bank of evidence in case he ever ended up in litigation with
the Club.

He had also briefed a journalist against clear Club policy, disclosed a
sponsorship agreement to a third party and used confidential bid
documentation for his own purposes in seeking employment. The High Court
agreed that these actions were sufficient justification for the Club to
summarily dismiss him.

It is often the case that employees give scant thought to their actions and
when it comes to confidential information we often see employees getting
themselves into hot water in this regard, sending emails from their work
address to their personal email address containing confidential information
or even taking steps to set up a new business using their employer’s email!
Certainly it can be useful, as an employer, to bring the wording in, for
example, contracts of employment or other documents you might ask staff to
sign to life by spelling out ‘this means .’ so there is a greater
understanding of the sorts of conduct which is captured by those documents,
a bit like how we might give examples in a social media policy these days of
the sort of conduct that the employer would have a problem with.

Another interesting aspect of the case is that one of the allegations for
gross misconduct was that the employee had sent a lewd Christmas card
showing 10 bare breasted women. This was found not to be gross misconduct in
the context of other incidents tolerated by the Club. This included a
birthday card that had been sent by a Director to the Claimant’s wife saying
‘Happy Birthday, all the breast’ – although it was accepted that this was
probably a typo, it just goes to show that you can’t simply assert that
something is gross misconduct and the way that you treat other situations
will be taken into account.

We have recently helped an employer put together a confidentiality document
to staff drawing their attention to the sorts of conduct they need to bear
in mind, so please do not hesitate to contact us if this would be of
interest to you.