There is a large group of us at work who mingle socially. Generally every Friday we go to a bar after work, sometimes we meet up on weekends, go climbing etc. During this time we joke around, sometimes talk about our week's work, have a bit of a grumble. It appears, however, that somebody in our social group has been writing down all the juicy things we've been saying and taking them to senior management.
We learnt this on Monday, just as the first member of our group was hauled in to see HR. Since then several people have been told to see HR and given various forms of discipline.
Sample remarks have been things like:
I'm quite cross that just as I found the perfect researcher she's gone and got herself pregnant [discrimination]
It'd be nice if [Muslim colleagues] could put a recurring meeting in their calendars for prayer so that I can schedule properly [discrimination]
There has also been complaints of swearing which I would hope would not be taken too seriously.
My question is:
None of us were in uniform with anything to tie us to the company
This was not written in a public space a la Facebook/Twitter cases
This was not in work time or in work premises
Can HR actually discipline their employees in the United Kingdom for something they have said in a bar or club?
It's probably worth noting that I have not been invited up to HR yet but it's likely I've at the very least dropped a few naughty words here and there.
( 6 months ago )
Yes, HR can penalize you for something you said in a bar during your free time. Imagine that you are in a bar discussing confidential information about the company, or personal information about an employee. Or maybe you are conspiring against some other employee. These are clear offenses that will get you in trouble with HR (or worse), regardless of where you were when the discussions took place.
Complaining and ranting about your work in a bar doesn't usually rise to that level. The sample remarks you provided certainly seem harmless to me. But it's pretty easy to slip into a grey area when you are blowing off steam in a bar, and that's probably what HR is concerned about.
Whatever happens, you need to reduce the size of your group to just a few trusted friends.