The NFL Does It. Can I Discipline My Employee for Off-Work Behavior?

The headlines are revolting.  The photographs and videos are repulsive.  NFL players abusing their wives, girlfriends and children.  The latest scenarios will generate much discussion, and hopefully many changed lives and behaviors.  No one deserves to be knocked unconscious, head-butted, whipped with a stick until welts form, or dragged through a hotel hallway.  It is particularly sad when it happens to those persons these men should love and protect the most. 

What will you do when an employee is accused, perhaps arrested, because of domestic abuse or violent behavior?  What can you do in California as an employer who seems to be bound by an array of endless and ridiculous laws? 

First, you should have an employment contract with your employee.  Really?  You bet.  But make it an employment contract for at-will employment.  By doing this, you prevent an employee from claiming you breached the employment contact due to the firing.  (See my blog on at-will employment contracts at http://www.flcz.net/2012/09/maintaining-will-employment-california-good-better-and-best-methods.)  If you must have a contract for a specific period of time, include a provision that allows you to terminate the agreement in the event of a situation like this.  Since you can't anticipate all of the crazy things an employee can do, include a provision that the contract can be terminated on 60 days notice. 

Is there a law that would prevent an employer from firing an employee due to off-work behavior?  Perhaps, depending on the circumstances.  For example, an employee who engages in concerted activities with other workers off the clock is protected by the National Labor Relations Act.  Or a person who campaigns for a certain candidate or cause off hours is protected by the California Labor Code. 

But what about a disturbing act, perhaps a criminal act?  Is the employee protected?  Probably not.  For example, there is no law that protects a man from knocking his girlfriend unconscious, or beating his child.  Nor are you required to wait until a court decides the person's fate.  You are not obligated to take action against the employee, and depending on the circumstance, you may wish to help him/her and the family by providing a leave for counseling.  Perhaps your assistance can help the family heal, and avoid more abuse that might result because of the added pressure of a lost job. These are difficult issues, and coming to the best decision will take time and consideration. 

I am sorry for those families in the NFL who are dominating the news.  Home should be a haven.  It should be a little piece of heaven on earth.  It should be a place where everyone in the family feels safe, respected and loved.  No family is perfect, and as a result, home should be a place where repentance and forgiveness must also be practiced.  But abuse should not be part of our society, our communities, and certainly not our homes.