It’s been almost impossible to avoid the recent press coverage regarding the “fracas” in which Jeremy Clarkson had an altercation with a producer at the BBC.
It was initially alleged that Mr Clarkson punched his producer following a foul-mouthed tirade about the lack of hot food at the end of a hard day’s filming.
It is well known that Mr Clarkson has a long and colourful history of controversy and has been in hot water with the management of the BBC on more than one occasion in the past.
What is interesting to an employment solicitor is observing what is in effect a gross misconduct issue being aired in the public domain and also the related commercial considerations of the Corporation.
Clearly the BBC have tried to balance the value of Mr Clarkson and the Top Gear brand to their income stream against the reputational risk and other risks involved in keeping him employed.
It would appear that he has been the subject of disciplinary action in the past but not until this incident was he suspended pending serious disciplinary action, which has resulted in his contract not being renewed and the remainder of the series abandoned.
As someone with a few years’ management experience I have had to deal with similar incidents and I am often asked by employers what to do if employees start to fight, although it is rare that there is physical violence.
Most people would assume that one employee punching another member of staff would be more than enough reason to instantly dismiss the offender.
However, employers should be very careful how they go about it.
Any employer who is tempted to instantly dismiss the employee concerned, would be well advised to follow the example of the BBC who seem to have got their procedures absolutely right.
It is important at the outset to suspend the employee on full pay, firstly to remove them from the workplace and secondly to make sure that a proper investigation is carried out.
The investigation should be as thorough and as quick as possible and once complete the employee should be invited to an investigatory meeting.
At the meeting they have the right to be accompanied and should be allowed to answer the allegations in full.
Only once these steps have been carried out should the employer proceed, if they have the evidence, to an appropriate disciplinary procedure.
What many employers often fail to understand is that even where an employee assaults another employee such as it was suggested in the Clarkson matter, is if they dismiss without following a proper procedure the dismissal will be unfair and they could face having to pay hefty compensation.
As always – if there is a “fracas” at work, always be careful not to be too rash. Consult the ACAS guidance and take proper legal advice.