Clarkson, BBC was right to suspend

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Top GearPolitical commentators have often noted how, in the information age, public opinion drives decisions. And here we are, viewing an employer-employee debacle on TV and news. Jeremy Clarkson has been “suspended pending investigation”.

We had the same ringside seat during the Haringey Council-Sharon Shoesmith affair and that ended with massive damages being awarded to the Sharon Shoesmith. Ed Balls summarily dismissed her on TV.

So before we get dragged in to signing the petition backing his re-instatement, before we join the baying crowd demanding that public opinion trounce company procedures, what’s the real deal here?

Assumptions

Whilst we don’t have all the facts of this situation, let’s make some assumptions. The first assumption is that Jeremy Clarkson is an employee. That’s a key assumption because if he’s not, the BBC can just cancel the contract with his firm and end the matter. The second is that an allegation has been made that he punched someone whilst at work – given this allegation, the BBC’s staff disciplinary code has potentially been breached by Clarkson.

Given this scenario, it is appropriate that the allegedly violent person is suspended, pending an investigation. The suspension is not a sanction and the person continues to be paid during this process. The suspension is put in place to allow the investigation to take place. This is standard practice.

At this stage therefore, it is not for the rest of us to make any judgement whatsoever. We might hope that he didn’t do it. That’s fine, but it’s not for us to judge. We must let the investigation run its course.

Policies and Procedures

Like every other organisation in the UK, the BBC will have policies and procedures to deal with allegations of inappropriate behaviour. By suspending and investigating, these processes are currently being enacted. During this process both the person making the allegations and the person against whom the allegations are made should be mindful that this process is taking place and decline to comment to work colleagues or the media. It is a wholly internal affair.

Following investigation it may be appropriate to hold a disciplinary meeting. There is a process to be followed in order to correctly manage disciplinary action.

The BBC is dealing with this incident in the same way that any employer should. The only difference is that Jeremy Clarkson is a celebrity and as such has a ground swell of support from Top Gear admirers who perhaps believe he should not be subject to the same procedures as everyone else in the BBC and indeed in the UK.

Meetings and Decision

Once the investigation is complete, and assuming that a disciplinary meeting is called and conducted in the correct manner, the outcome may be some sanction, the most extreme of which is dismissal. Dismissal is generally used in cases of gross misconduct or where previous formal warnings have been given demanding future good behaviour.

The decision on sanction will be made on the basis of reasonable belief: reasonable belief that the alleged behaviour took place and that it was severe enough to warrant dismissal. There are other options such as ‘final written warning’ that can be given if the alleged incident does not warrant dismissal.

If, as is being reported in the press, there have been previous warnings, then dismissal may be an appropriate response.

Clarkson, BBC was right to suspend

Like every other business in the land, the BBC should be left alone to manage this incident internally without the interference of politicians, reporters or Top Gear fans. The final decision must rest with the BBC management.

If, after the evidence has been considered and the meetings held, it is concluded that Clarkson did indeed punch a colleague, he will need to face the consequences. And, like all other employees in the land he will have the right to appeal.

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