Disciplining Employees for Off-Duty Misconduct

By Lane V. Erickson, Attorney

Generally speaking, in Idaho, there are few statutory limitations for disciplining an employee for off-duty misconduct worth mentioning. The only one worth mentioning is contained in the Idaho Civil Service Act (See I.C. §§ 50-1601 et seq.)

Pursuant to the Civil Service Act, each city council that creates a civil service system has to adopt a civil service ordinance that describes the department or employees that will be subject to the Act.  In most instances, civil service employees include police and firemen.

According to the Idaho Supreme Court, the civil service statutes regulate how positions of employment are filled and dictate the method of appointment, promotion, removal and discharge under I.C. §§ 50-1604, 1606, and 1609. The act requires appointment to positions after competitive exams and protects employees by providing that all applicants thereafter appointed “shall hold office, place, position or employment only during good behavior, and any such person may be removed, discharged, suspended without pay, demoted, reduced in rank, deprived of vacation privileges” for cause shown under I.C. § 50-1604.  Int’l Ass’n of Firefighters, Local No. 672 v. City of Boise City, 136 Idaho 162, 166-167 (Idaho 2001).

Specifically section 50-1604(4) describes several types of conduct, both on and off the clock, which could lead to the termination of a civil service employee. These are:

(b) Dishonesty, intemperance, immoral conduct, insubordination, discourteous treatment of the public or a fellow employee, or any other act of omission or commission tending to injure the public service; willful failure on the part of the employee to properly conduct himself, or any other willful violation of the civil service rules and regulations;

(d) Dishonest, disgraceful, immoral or prejudicial conduct;

(f) Conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude;

(g) Any other act or failure to act, which in the judgment of the civil service commissioners is sufficient to show the offender to be an unsuitable and unfit person to be employed in the public service.

I.C. § 50-1604(4).

Only two cases in Idaho have relied upon the Idaho Civil Service Act or a city civil service ordinance for purposes of terminating or considering the termination of a civil service employee for off-duty conduct. Both of these cases involve police officers.

The first case is Dexter v. Idaho Falls City Police Department, 113 Idaho 179 (Ct. App. 1987). In Dexter, the Idaho Falls City Police Department received a complaint of off-duty abusive behavior by Dexter, a four-year police officer. Dexter’s alleged abusive behavior was directed at his step-children. An investigation was conducted by a city detective resulting in a report that confirmed the complaint. The Chief of Police decided that Dexter’s off-duty conduct amounted to an act “tending to injure the public service,” in violation of a rule of the Idaho Falls Civil Service Commission.  The Chief terminated Dexter’s employment which was upheld by the Idaho Falls Civil Service Commission. Dexter requested a hearing with the Commission. The Commission evaluated Dexter’s termination under both its own established rules and the Idaho Civil Service Act and in a written decision found that Dexter’s inability to control his temper when confronted with relatively insignificant provocation cast serious doubt upon his ability to perform his duties as a police office. The Idaho Court of Appeals upheld Dexter’s termination stating that the Commission’s findings that Dexter’s termination was made in good faith and for cause were reasonable and supported by substantial and competent evidence.

The second case is Peterson v. The City of Pocatello, 117 Idaho 234 (Ct. App. 1990). In Peterson, the Pocatello Police Department received a complaint that Peterson, a 12 year police officer, was involved in an altercation with his wife and her employer in the lounge at the Holiday Inn in Pocatello. As a result of the complaint, the Police Chief informed Peterson by letter than an investigation was being conducted. The letter also informed Peterson that pursuant to the applicable Civil Service Rules his actions could result in sanctions ranging from a reprimand to dismissal. A hearing was held with the Board of Police Supervisors which resulted in a letter informing Peterson that his employment would be terminated within a week unless he resigned prior to that time. The Pocatello Civil Service Commission upheld the decision. Peterson resigned and then filed a lawsuit against the City of Pocatello alleging that he had been wrongfully terminated. The district court ruled in favor of the City of Pocatello and Peterson appealed. The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed.

So if you are an employer or an employee in Idaho and have questions about after work conduct as the basis for a termination, we can help. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Employment Law attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at lve@racinelaw.net. We will answer your Idaho Employment Law questions and will help you solve your Idaho Employment Law problems.

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