Certain behaviour calls for on-the-spot termination, as shown with the Barry Hall scandal last week. But how easy is it – and when is it appropriate – for employers to give someone the on-the-spot chop?
If an employee behaves in an unprofessional manner an employer might want to fire them on-the-spot but it’s not always as clear cut as you might think.
Keen to avoid an unfair dismissal claim, some companies might opt for the educational route, as was seen with the recent Starbucks mass cultural-bias training. Then there are circumstances where immediate termination seems like the most appropriate action, especially when inappropriate behaviour is broadcasted live for thousands to hear, as Triple M decided last week.
Barry Hall, a former football player (and now former Triple M commentator), was taken off the air on Friday following inappropriate sexual comments regarding one of his fellow panelists’ wife.
Triple M’s Head of Content, Mike Fitzpatrick, described the comments as “unacceptable and inappropriate” and reported that Hall had been immediately terminated and an on-air apology was promptly issued. While this is the standard of response we’ve come to expect when celebrities are behaving badly, it doesn’t correlate with how we’d handle a similar scenario in ‘the real world’.
Public actions have public consequences
As we have previously reported, it’s not easy to fire an employee on the spot. Aaron Goonrey, Partner at Lander and Rogers, says that Hall’s circumstance is unusual in that it was publicly broadcasted. He likened it to an employee saying/doing something inappropriate on social media.
“Other than in those unusual scenarios, you shouldn’t terminate an employee summarily without investigating the conduct. If you’re contemplating summary dismissal, I would always recommend following a due process. Investigate the complaint, arm yourself with the facts and evidence, put that to the alleged offender and then consider their response before making a decision,” he says.
“Hall may have had provisions in his contract that said he couldn’t enter into discussion around vulgar, crude content – the good fame and character provision – which would make on the spot dismissal much easier.”
Goonrey says that even though an employer might consider certain behaviour as grounds to fire on the spot, the law doesn’t normally allow for such immediate decisions to be made. “It’s not always easy to determine if an employee’s actions actually constitute ‘serious misconduct’ in the eyes of the law.
“In the end, each instance of misconduct has to be considered on a case by case basis, and it should not be assumed that a finding of serious misconduct will be made. As tempting as it might be to shortcut the dismissal process, it can ultimately lead to more time and money being expended if the dismissal is litigated,” Goonrey says.
It’s easier to fire on-the-spot when you’re in the spotlight
Considering this particular offence occurred in such a public arena, Triple M might have seen the repercussions against them as minimal. The public outrage surrounding the issue seemingly helps to justify their choice to give Hall the boot there and then. Taking the brand reputation angle, instead of worrying too much about legal ramifications, is a luxury that most employers don’t have.
Goonrey explains, “An employer can terminate someone instantaneously but that will have legal ramifications for them. If an employer has no choice but to take decisive and prompt action then the concept of natural justice and procedural fairness may not come into play during the decision making process.”
When companies who are in the spotlight face a PR nightmare such as Hall’s offensive commentary, they are forced to act quickly or risk tarnishing their brand’s reputation for good. Companies outside of the limelight may have more time to put a plan in place but when push comes to shove, they just might find it harder to rid themselves of a troublesome employee. But who knows? If an employee is problematic enough, perhaps employers can just give them a microphone to broadcast their opinions, and see what happens.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.
Gain the practical skills to handle a serious complaint of misconduct with the AHRI short course ‘Investigating workplace misconduct’.