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Should Police Officers Resign to Avoid Misconduct Proceedings?

Friday, 28 March 2014

Misconduct procedures are a normal part of the modern HR policy and are something even the best behaved employees are aware of. Although they are the norm, employees accused of serious forms of misconduct may be offered the choice of resigning rather than going through the disciplinary process.

Depending upon the specific circumstances, resignation on confidential terms may be the least bad option if it avoids the alternatives: potential embarrassment, reputational risks from protracted misconduct investigations and hearings, and possible sanctions.

In the private sector such practices are likely to attract little attention but this tactic has been receiving growing scrutiny when used in parts of the public sector, as the Metropolitan Police have found following the Plebgate scandal.

Misconduct in Public Office

Misconduct in the employment sense usually refers to types of behaviour that are unacceptable in a particular working environment. Clearly, it can vary considerably – drinking alcohol while working as a heavy machinery operator in a construction business may be gross misconduct in that case but perfectly acceptable for a barman. It is something that private sector employers have broad discretion to decide within the boundaries of other legislation such as discrimination laws but public sector employers are subject to official guidance.

This general form of misconduct should not be confused with the criminal offence of misconduct in public office which can affect employees in the public sector. This is a common law offence that carries a maximum life sentence. Although the two should not be confused, the recent Plebgate scandal has at least connected them in the mind of the public.

Misconduct in the Public Sector

As with any other employer, public sector employers have standards of behaviour that they expect employees to conform to. These standards are set out in guidance issued by the relevant Secretary of State. In the Plebgate scandal a Metropolitan Police officer pled guilty to the criminal offence of misconduct in public office but had attempted to resign from the force to avoid internal disciplinary procedures and a potential sacking. His resignation request was denied.

The spectre of officers being able to resign, or in some cases retire, to avoid disciplinary proceedings and dismissal is particularly grating for members of the public when the activities officers are accused of are deemed criminal. Resignation effectively means that officers leave the force with a clean record and all their benefits intact.

Freedom of information requests show that since 2008, hundreds of Police officers have used this strategy successfully. Some have even re-entered the force at a later date.

Comment

Although these tactics are technically possible for public sector workers, there is obviously a great risk of losing public trust in institutions if poor behaviour goes un-investigated. Despite this, it may still be the best option for individual workers facing disciplinary procedures. For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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