There is a very interesting article in Human Resources Magazine by Martin Pratt an employment lawyer with Kingsley Napley. It looks at the problems caused by employers publicly criticising employees for perceived failings prior to an investigation.
He cites the cases of Francesca Schettino the captain of the stricken Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia who is currently under house arrest. He also uses the example of Brodie Clark the former head of the UK Border Agency who resigned in November last year after being publicly criticised by the Home Secretary, Teresa May. In the case of Clark he resigned after May blamed him for supposedly unauthorised relaxation of border controls at the UK’s points of entry. In the case of Schettino barely 48 hours after his ship ran aground on a Tuscan island the owners of the Costs Concordia publicly and explicitly blamed the captain, their employee, for the unfolding disaster.
I would also add the the mix the case of Sharon Shoesmith the ex-Children’s Services Director at Haringey Council who has won a court of appeal battle over her sacking in the case of 'Baby Peter'. Judges said that the then Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and her employers Haringey council had been procedurally unfair when they sacked her three years ago. She said that she first heard of her dismissal when Mr Balls announced she would be removed from her post with immediate effect in a live press conference on television.
Mr Pratt talks about the protection of the concept of 'Constructive dismissal'. In the case of Brodie Clark he publicaly stated that Teresa May’s claims had fundamentally undermined the trust and confidence that he could expect to hold in his employer. In English employment law it is an unwritten term in employment contracts that employers must not act in an irrational or perverse manner or act in a way which no reasonable employer would have acted when it is exercising its managerial discretion. Saying that an employee is at fault prior to the conclusion of any investigation that could reasonably assign such blame would in most cases not be a manner in which a reasonable employer would act.
The safest course of action is to suspend the employee pending an investigation and then hold a disciplinary hearing that may result in dismissal. In the meantime no public comment about the employee should be made pending the outcome of the enquiry. Best practice is to withhold comment on causes and particularly blame. Of course it will be necessary to express regret for an incident and to express concern for customer safety and well-being and to talk about steps being taken to investigate the issue, check procedures and stabilise the situation for the future. However rushing to judgement is not wise until all the facts are both known and weighed.
Employers would be wise to remember that only fools rush in.
So true Lisa,sensible organisations understand that there is nothing to be gained by public confrontations , no one wins. Thanks for your comment
You make a crucial point about the need to show proper concern for customer safety and well-being, Angela. Another consequence of publicly criticising employees is when those employees engage in a public push-back. Often this seems to lead to an unedifying spectacle, undermining public confidence that issues such as customer safety are afforded the right priority.