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INSIGHT: Clarkson is Driving Awareness of Employment Law

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Disputes between employees are not infrequent in the workplace but, surely, few divide opinion quite so much as Jeremy Clarkson’s recent ‘fracas’ with a BBC producer.

An allegation of assault is extremely serious and, we must hope, unusual in the workplace and the BBC acted promptly to suspend Mr Clarkson pending an investigation into what actually happened.

The allegations, even in isolation, would be shocking to most employers but here we are talking about an individual whom, we are told, was already on a ‘final warning’ following a racism row last year.

So where does that leave the BBC as an employer now?

The waters have been muddied somewhat by the personality of the employee in question. His popularity with Top Gear fans is built on his edgy irreverence and his ability to challenge the boundaries of acceptable on-screen behaviour.

However, despite the clout that his viewing figures and revenue streams bring to the BBC, he is not bigger than the corporation and certainly not above the law.

If we compare his status at the BBC to a top-performing sales person in a commercial company, for example, it’s easy to see how dismissal may have a negative impact.  However, any organisation in a situation where an employee has been found to have acted in a way that is detrimental to the company and its reputation must also consider the negative impact of failing to act decisively.

The essential factor to remember here is that there needs to be a full investigation to discover what did actually happen and lay bare the evidence. That investigation is still underway at the BBC and, while plans for Mr Clarkson to appear at a Top Gear live event in Norway later this month have now been postponed, his fate will not be decided until the investigation has run its course.

In most employment disputes, the results of an initial investigation may prompt disciplinary action, dismissal or further suspension and investigation. In the Clarkson case, however, with a final warning already in place, there seems to be only limited options left: dismissal, exoneration or a final written warning to run concurrently with the one already in place.

Regardless of how the drama unfolds, Mr Clarkson’s future income and career seem unlikely to suffer. Back in the world of corporate realities, however, the legacy of his ‘fracas’ will be to serve as a reminder that no employee – no matter how senior – should be above employment law.

Also in this issue of Insight

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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