Sam Allardyce has been sacked from his new post as England manager, with a 100% performance record (after just one football match). And by “sacked”, we don’t mean after a disciplinary process, we mean “left by mutual agreement”, which is the way things are done in high-profile positions, so as to preserve dignity.

It stems from a newspaper investigation claiming he was selling advice on how to get around rules on player transfers. These rules exist to create stability in the football market. He wasn’t proposing to do anything unlawful.

The Daily Telegraph said he had had a meeting (with undercover reporters) posing as businessmen. He allegedly said it was “not a problem” to bypass rules on third-party player ownership and claimed he knew of agents who did  it “all the time”. He then agreed to work for them on the side for £400k.

The Football Association has said that Allardyce’s conduct was “inappropriate” and Gareth Southgate has taken over as a temporary manager.

“He accepts he made a significant error of judgement and has apologised,” the FA said.

For the rest of us who are not England managers, the story is an interesting reminder that you can be dismissed for doing things out of work, that have nothing to do with work, if they could bring the employer into disrepute.

We have seen disciplinary dismissals for this reason where a lollipop lady was seen smoking marijuana and where an office manager gossiped about a director.

In both of those cases, the employer had taken the precaution of making “bringing your employer into disrepute” into an example of gross misconduct in its disciplinary policy. We have never seen a dismissal where it wasn’t, but we don’t think this would save an employee’s job. If you are an employee, you have a “duty of fidelity” towards your employer and are in a kind of relationship with them where you each implicitly agree not to devalue each other in the eyes of others without a good reason. It is part of the duty of trust and confidence that underpins every employment relationship.

We have on client at the moment who worked in a shop and was disciplined for being seen in work with a carrier bag of a competitor. We think that is going too far. And it is certainly the case that employers tend to see that sort of clause as a “catch-all” for many sorts of conduct which don’t really bring the employer into disrepute at all.

By Jason Harbourne
Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland