The media is full of the story of a couple from Wales who were fired from their jobs after the husband helped save children from a shark attack.

It seems that the husband’s heroics generated a media stir at the time, which led to the employer back in Wales finding out the couple were vacationing in Australia when they were supposed to be on disability leave.  The employer decided to terminate their employment, thus generating the current media storm.

It is possible, even likely, that there is more to the story than is currently being told, but the employer’s reported reasoning is pretty thin.  While we can’t opine on employment law in Wales, we can review the issues that employers in British Columbia have to consider before taking such a step.

First, it must be determined if the vacation in Australia, and the ability to wrestle a shark, is clearly inconsistent with the disability leave.  If the leave was to tend to an ailment that made travel impossible, or which would make shark wrestling very difficult, the employer would have a solid basis for suspicion.  (The leave in this case was reportedly for stress, and the employees are claiming they had medical advice to go on holiday.)

Second, if there is some reasonable basis for suspicion, it is best to make further inquiries before acting.  Find out exactly what the employee was doing and carefully compare that with the stated reasons for the disability leave.  Review the latest medical information, ask the disability insurer for any update they can provide, and gather other relevant information.

Third, meet with the employee.  Ask the employee if s/he did what was reported to you.  If denied, tell the employee what you have heard and parcel out the information you have until you get an acknowledgement.  If still denied, you can then re-check your evidence and you may have further grounds to terminate based on the employee’s dishonesty.

If the employee acknowledges the activity, ask if and how the employee considers that to be compatible with the disability leave.  Keep asking questions until you are satisfied you have heard every justification the employee may have to offer.

Fourth, review all the evidence you have and the responses, demeanour and general conduct of the employee.  You need to determine if the employee has misled you, abused the disability leave, failed to follow medical advice, or otherwise acted in such a way as to make continued employment impossible.  If there is a serious problem, but maybe not enough to terminate, consider alternative discipline in accordance with any collective agreement or employment agreement.

These are shark infested waters for employers and caution is always advised.