What rights do employees accused of bullying have?
Following Liverpool FC’s £16m offer, Mario Balotelli (former striker at AC Milan) will spend this season at Anfield; but only if he behaves. Described by José Mourinho as unmanageable (and famous for *that* video clip involving a troublesome training bib…), Balotelli is a controversial figure, having clashed with most of his managers during his brief career.
The striker’s new contract allegedly includes clauses which require him to adhere to an elite code of conduct or face serious disciplinary and financial sanctions. The purpose of these clauses is to curb Balotelli’s behaviour, raising the question: what can employers do when faced with a problem employee?
Whilst different considerations apply in a footballing context to those which apply in other industries (such as financial services, technology and media, or banking and regulatory) personality clashes in the workplace, irreconcilable differences between colleagues, or dealing with an employee’s behavioural issues can create significant problems for any employer. The tribunals have held that where an employee’s difficult personality substantially disrupts their employer’s business, or impacts upon that individual’s behaviour towards colleagues and clients, an employer is entitled to dismiss them.
Any such dismissal is not, however, regarded as one on grounds of conduct (as you might expect). Instead, it is a dismissal for “some other substantial reason”. This is because the reason for the employee’s termination is not their conduct per se, but rather the fact that the parties simply cannot work with each other.
Employers need to exercise caution when dealing with difficult individuals. Where an issue arises due to the conflicting views, opinions or beliefs of employees, and those views, opinions or beliefs are protected by discrimination legislation (for example, they relate to religion, race, sexual orientation, disability or any other protected characteristic) employers must be careful not to expose themselves to discrimination and/or unfair dismissal claims.
What can employers do to protect themselves?
The above list provides some helpful guidance for an employer to consider when faced with a sensitive situation involving employees in the workplace. However, seeking legal advice before taking any action so as to guard against the risk of a disgruntled employee issuing proceedings against you is key, and cannot be underestimated.
An amended version of this article first appeared on HR Magazine in September 2014.
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