I’ve been following the news reports over the last few weeks covering the story of disgraced cyclist, Lance Armstrong. I’m struck by several things: (1) that Lance continues to admit no wrongdoing, despite mounting evidence of his participation in doping; and (2) the distinctions that are being drawn between sports personalities like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, whose misconduct occurred off the playing field, and Lance, whose misconduct threatened the integrity of the competition. How does this compare to what we see in the workplace?
As Toronto employment lawyers and workplace investigators, we see a wide range of responses when employees are accused of misconduct at work.
There are the:
- Contrite: they acknowledge their wrongdoing, seem to truly “get it” and appear honestly committed to change
- Appropriately Remorseful: their apologies seem forced at the hands of their counsel who hope that the consequences for their client will be less severe if they “fess up”.
- Steadfast: they maintain their innocence even in the face of the clearest of evidence against them. What we know from the case-law if that things can get much worse for an employee who is guilty of misconduct if the employee is found to have lied about it as well.
We also know that an employee’s misconduct will be considered in its full context. If the infraction occurred outside of work and had nothing to do with and no negative effect on the employer or the workplace, it may be difficult to rely on it as a basis for a just cause termination - unless, of course, the employee lies about it as well. It may not prevent the employee from losing his or her job, but the employer may have to choose to provide a severance package in such a case.
So if there are lessons to be learned from Lance, it is to admit to wrongdoing. Marc Ganis, the President of SportsCorp, a sports business consulting firm in Chicago, recommended in a recent Globe & Mail article that this would be best done by a carefully placed call to Barbara Walters several years down the road. That may work in the court of public opinion, but the employee may have long since lost their job as a result.