In Jagex v McCambridge, the Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed that an employee was not guilty of gross misconduct for sharing details of a senior executive’s pay with colleagues, after he discovered a document containing the executive’s salary uncollected on a communal printer.

When Mr McCambridge found a visa application containing these salary details, he pointed it out to a colleague as he thought it was interesting given recent discontent among staff about differentials in pay between executives and other employees. Unsurprisingly, word quickly got round and by lunchtime, a group of employees (not including Mr McCambridge) had started up a game of ‘Guess the Executive’s Pay’ where people would shout out a guess and be told if the salary was higher or lower until someone came up trumps.

Word got back to management when two other more senior employees raised the issue of the executive’s pay with their line managers, citing concerns about its effect on staff morale. Jagex then commenced disciplinary proceedings against Mr McCambridge on a charge of gross misconduct for ‘unauthorised disclosure or misuse of confidential information’. Jagex summarily dismissed Mr McCambridge who then brought claims for unfair and wrongful dismissal in the employment tribunal (ET).

The ET was unimpressed with the ‘heavy-handedness’ demonstrated by Jagex. As there was no express term in Mr McCambridge’s employment contract which identified salary details as confidential information, the ET concluded that no reasonable employer would, or could fairly, have dismissed Mr McCambridge for his actions. The EAT readily agreed with this decision.

This case serves as a warning to employers that if they are keen to keep salary details under wraps, they need to ensure that the confidentiality provisions in their employment contracts expressly cover this type of information. They should also publish protocols for handling confidential information, of which employees should be aware, understanding that failure to adhere to these protocols or dissemination of the confidential information is likely to result in disciplinary proceedings. Just because an employee’s actions cause embarrassment to an employer, that doesn’t justify scape-goating – a dismissal will only be fair when the employer has acted reasonably in all the circumstances.