Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has a knack of hitting the headlines – sometimes for the wrong reasons. Recently, he was involved with an incident whereby the show’s producer was subjected to “an unprovoked physical and verbal attack”.
After his suspension, 500,000 people have signed an online petition voting for his immediate reinstatement. This support did not influence the BBC’s decision. Clarkson’s contract was not renewed due to “sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature” against a senior producer.
Whilst considering its decision, the BBC announced that it was conducting a full investigation into the alleged incident. This is the most appropriate response whenever there is an allegation of misconduct at work. The case provides some interesting food for thought for employers with high-performing employees who have trouble adhering to the same rules and standards as everyone else.
It’s not hard to see how employers could be conflicted when such issues occur. Take a hugely productive sales manager, for example, who accounts for a significant percentage of profits each year, but whose abrasive, aggressive management style causes high staff turnover. If that person was to punch another, or behave in a way which could lead to a persuasive case of gross misconduct, how should the employer proceed?
Most employers will suspend the employee accused of the behaviour, pending the result of the investigation. Sometimes there will suspicion over who has been the aggressor – employers should consider whether one or both employees involved should be suspended. Employers should be careful not to jump to conclusions about who might be at fault. Suspension should not be seen as a sanction in itself. It should only be used where it is necessary to remove the employee from the workplace in order to allow a thorough investigation to be carried out as quickly as possible.
Regardless of circumstances, it is crucial that employers consider both sides of the story and avoid jumping to conclusions. There should then be a disciplinary hearing, chaired by a manager who hasn’t been involved in the case. The employee concerned should have the chance to put across his or her point of view. Any mitigating factors should be taken into account. Employees have the right to be accompanied by a union representative or a colleague.
After the meeting, the employer should provide a decision in writing, including the reasons behind that decision. Employees have the right of appeal to a more senior manager who, again, should have had no prior involvement in the case.
Employers need to behave consistently, regardless of the value or status of the employee involved. Showing favour to some employees over others should be actively discouraged.
For example, someone may have a habit of making offensive jokes, which management may brush off as a bit of harmless fun. Allowing that kind of atmosphere to pervade at work risks lowering the bar of what is acceptable, which can create an unpleasant environment. If the workplace culture is one where racial slurs or other offensive behaviour is seen as being tolerated, it can place employers at risk of discrimination claims. Employers can sometimes be held liable for the actions for their employees even where there is a one-off incident of harassment in the workplace.
“An inconsistent approach to expected standards of discipline across an organisation makes management look weak”, explains Matthew – HR Specialist of Consensus HR & Business – Herts & Beds. “Plus, it creates an environment which can ultimately have a detrimental impact on the bottom line.”
Consensus HR is here to help businesses with all types of situations in the workplace that involve members of the team – including any involving a well known celebrity!
Contact Matthew from Consensus HR via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01462 621 423.