It is hard to miss the controversy over Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension with the media furore and public response. I do not know the details of the case, and probably none of us will until after the investigation has been duly carried out. What I do feel is important is the process and integrity at stake in this type of situation. Employers have to get the balance right.
In any employment procedure, there has to be fairness and consistency. ACAS states that ‘Employers should use a fair and consistent procedure’. There cannot be one rule for someone, because he/she is popular or earns more money for the company, and another rule for the rest.
The BBC is in the middle of investigations about Jimmy Saville and how a ‘blind eye’ (or several hundred eyes) was turned because of his status. Unacceptable behaviour is just that, whoever demonstrated it. In no way am I saying that throwing a punch is the same as child abuse, but ultimately, they are both unacceptable and contravene company policy. Any mitigating circumstances of the case will be drawn out in the investigation.
There was a case some years ago of two sales ladies being sacked in a store for stealing a couple of sweets from the pick and mix. Was that fair? Basically, stealing is stealing, whether it is a few sweets, some pens or vast sums of money as Leeson did. Where, as an employer, do you draw the line?
If someone thinks there are no boundaries, their behaviour can get more extreme. This was demonstrated when a vehicle mechanic for a large farming estate was caught having bought a couple of spark plugs (£15) for his car with the company account. He gave a very plausible excuse and was given the benefit of the doubt. Some months later, he was found to have ‘fenced’ some £28,000 worth of goods from the company.
If an employee is popular and successful, the risk is that the behaviour is condoned. I have seen financially successful managers allowed to bully and destroy people in their team because they got results. No one questioned the Directors of Enron because of their initial success. The end does not always justify the means.
Integrity can be compromised for the sake of false idols, such as celebrity status or profit. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, let’s hope the BBC management goes for fairness and consistency.
Read what the CMI has to say about the incident.