Football’s back …

29 08 2008

 

 

As if it ever went away.  The Premiership kicks off this weekend and I will be hoping that Arsenal can do better than last year’s third place and gain the trophy that their brand of exciting, attacking play deserves.  One person who will probably see the great kick off as a bittersweet moment will be Ben Collett, the former Manchester United player whose career was cut tragically short at the age of 18 by a bad tackle, when he made his debut in a reserve game against Middlesbrough.

 

It was reported this week that the High Court has awarded him £4.5 million as compensation for having his leg broken in two places in May 2003.  As ever in the cases of large awards, the headline figure does not tell us very much. The vast bulk of the award was made up of an award for future loss of earnings – almost £3.9mn – and was so large because it was judged he could have been earning £13,000 a week if he carried on to have a normal length playing career.  The figure for past loss of earnings was not far short of half a million pounds.   Neither of these figures are particularly surprising given the large amounts of money that Premiership footballers earn. 

 

What was interesting about this case, aside from the appearance of Sir Alex Ferguson and Gary Neville in court as witnesses on behalf of Ben Collett, was the award of £35,000 for “PSLA” – otherwise known as “pain suffering and loss of amenity”.  This is the sum awarded for the personal injury itself; for the actual pain of having a very serious break of the leg and the subsequent effect on his life.  PSLA awards in this country are generally pretty low, but £35,000 is a substantial figure and reflects not only the how bad the injury was but also the ongoing level of symptoms and pain he continues to suffer.  The award will also include the “loss of amenity” in not being able to pursue a career that most of us (men) can only dream of.  He now plans to go to University: good luck Ben.

 

This article first appeared in the “Docklands” and “Peninsula” newspapers on 12th August 2008

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Glass ceilings and revolving doors?

27 08 2008

I’ve just stumbled upon a new website, called Glassdoor.com, an American website which allows employees to post (anonymously) what they really think about the company they work for on the web. It is looking to expand globally and claims to have reports from 11,000 employees in 80 countries. It allows you to compare your salary against competitors, provided you post, again anonymously, your own salary or review on where you currently work.  It’s free to access and the only commitment you need to make is, apparently, to post your own review. 

 

On the home page you’ll find the inside track on Accenture and JP Morgan Chase, with some detailed reviews of each company and an analysis of satisfaction levels based on the reviews filed.  JP Morgan Chase gets a rating of 3.5 out of 5 based on 111 reviews filed – pretty middling really. Whilst the attractions of the site are obvious to a prospective employee deciding whether to accept an offer of employment from a featured company, they may not be immediately apparent to an employer. The website tries to reassure employers that the site is of benefit to them because it will enable them to review themselves properly on the basis of the reviews and put their house in order if necessary.  It may also cause businesses to review their remuneration structures if the postings show them to be out of line.  Undoubtedly employers will get nervous about this, especially as discussions about salary and bonus between employees are frequently prohibited in contracts of employment (although this will be made illegal if the Equality Bill becomes law). 

 

The founders of the site say they called it “Glassdoor” to allow people to see right into a company and to get an idea what it is really like. In doing so, it may highlight the glass ceilings that exist in some companies and increase traffic through the doors.  In the end anything that gives more information to employees about the place where they work has to be a good thing.      

 

This article will appear in the “Docklands” and “Peninsula” newspapers week commencing 1st September 2008





It’s not cricket

18 08 2008

Last week we heard about the award of £4.5mn compensation to Ben Collett, the former Manchester United player who had his leg broken in a match against Middlesbrough five years ago.  Another footballer, Adrian Mutu, formerly of Chelsea, also made the non-sports pages for being ordered to pay his former club £13.68mn in compensation.  Mutu was one of the first players brought in , for £15mn, following the Abramovich takeover and one of the first out after he tested positive for cocaine. Chelsea sacked him for gross misconduct in October 2004.  He was banned from football for seven months and when that was lifted he went to Juventus and was subsequently sold by them to Fiorentina, for whom he now plays.

Chelsea didn’t receive a transfer fee for him  when he left and they subsequently took action against him to recover the transfer fee and wages. Initially the world governing body, FIFA, refused to allow Chelsea to sue Mutu, but that was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.   Mutu has said that he will appeal the “inhumane sentence”.  Poor love.

What does the law say in this situation?  Well, Mutu was sacked for gross misconduct, which is  a potentially fair reason for terminating a contract of employment.  Provided the employer has reasonable grounds for believing the  (serious) misconduct occurred then the dismissal will be prima-facie “fair”. The Employer will need to show that dismissal was a “reasonable response” to the misconduct.  In the case of a Premiership footballer, supposedly setting a good example to fans and being a role model to youngsters, Chelsea would not have had much difficulty proving this was the case.  However, in the case of “ordinary” employees working in banks, law firms, shops etc. would the same be true? 

Much will depend on where the misconduct took place.  If, to follow the Mutu example, the drug taking took place outside of office hours, away from business premises, whether the dismissal will be fair will depend on what steps the employer took to make it clear that such behaviour was unacceptable. What does the contract or employment handbook say? Does it spell out that such behaviour, even in the employee’s “own time” will be a serious disciplinary matter?  If yes, then the employer may be able to justify their decision to terminate the employment if the problem arises provided they had a genuine belief that the offence had occurred, thus avoid a finding of unfair dismissal against them.  On the other hand, if nothing is stipulated then the final decision will rest on a very careful analysis of all relevant facts by the Employment Tribunal.  In all cases it is imperative that the employer follows the correct and proper disciplinary process, particularly to avoid any suspicion that the misconduct is, in fact, a smokescreen for the real reason for dismissal.  By way of example, in 2003, a woman was dismissed former job, allegedly for gross misconduct, but she argued that although she had made mistakes, the real reason for being sacked was because she was pregnant. 

The other issue with gross misconduct cases is that criminal behaviour will not necessarily give an employer carte blanche to dismiss.  In 2000 an Arsenal fan, being a postman, was spotted on TV kicking a Galatasary supporter in the head at the final of the UEFA Cup in Copenhagen.  He was sacked on his return.  He subsequently won his case at the Employment Tribunal.  The moral for employers is, if you want to regulate your employees’ behaviour outside work and prevent damage to your reputation, spell out what sort of conduct is unacceptable in the contract of employment/employment handbook and proceed with great caution if the situation arises.