Jeremy Clarkson is Marmite man par excellence, but what is the appropriate HR response to his latest controversy?
Jeremy Clarkson is Marmite man par excellence. You love him or hate him. I am not a fan, but you could never accuse him of being bland. On Tuesday last week he was suspended from the BBC when it was alleged that he had punched his producer Oisin Tymon. The BBC now describes the incident as an ‘alleged fracas’.
It’s not the first time Clarkson has been in trouble, not by quite some way. He once referred to a Ferrari as ‘having special needs’ and on a separate occasion called Gordon Brown a ‘one eyed Scottish idiot’. We could easily list many more. Clarkson was given a final warning by the BBC in May last year after he used the ‘n-word’ whilst filming one of the Top Gear shows. Considering the comments which he has made before, we think he is pretty lucky to have no formal action taken previously. At the time, Clarkson said that he had been told by the BBC that he would be sacked if he made one more offensive comment. Although he has not made an offensive comment this time, ten months later the water’s boiling and he’s in it up to the neck.
Hitting another person or threatening them is unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. It could easily be said that Clarkson is giving the BBC a bad reputation. In many employment law cases this could be considered an act of gross misconduct. I don’t know if Clarkson is employed by the BBC or self-employed. There would be no question of dismissing a self-employed presenter, but such behaviour would probably be grounds to end a commercial contract for services.
Over half a million fans / license payers have reacted to his suspension from work by signing a petition and are part of the Twitter campaign to #BringBackClarkson.
But put Clarkson in the shoes of Joe Bloggs who works in an office in London. If Joe made such inappropriate comments on as many occasions as Clarkson has, he would have found himself dismissed following a full and fair investigation and disciplinary process. Not only are the comments inappropriate but they could also amount to discrimination.
In 2008, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand were both dismissed from the BBC after making prank calls to actor Andrew Sachs on a Radio Two show. During the call Ross swore and Brand made inappropriate comments about Sachs’ granddaughter. Each case will always turn on its own facts but it comparison some of Clarkson’s comments have been much more offensive.
On the other hand Clarkson has millions of fans and brings a lot of money to the BBC. This matter makes things more complicated for the BBC. What do you do when an employee who brings thousands of pounds to a company has committed gross misconduct?
To be honest, I don’t really see why celebrity status should give extra employment protection. Perhaps Clarkson should finally be handed his marching orders. He’s had enough chances and if you keep giving chances without taking any further action, after a while, the original intention wears thin. It will be interesting to see if the BBC is man or mouse in the handling of this Teflon-coated enfant terrible.
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