12th April 2013
Blog Extra... And in a slight change to our advertised theme;
Although our theme at the moment is ‘performance management’; given the breaking news story this week, I thought it was important to take some time out to reflect on the Employment Tribunals reserved judgement in the case of English v. Amshold Group Limited... Why is this case so important? Well, if you make a slight tweak to the names of the claimant and respondent in the case, you get ‘The Apprentice v. Lord Sugar’. In a contradiction to the normal suspense thriller, the outcome – which has been splashed across the media anyway, is a case of and in an interpretation of Lord Sugar’s own words... ‘You’re ‘not’ Fired’!!!!
Yes, Stella English who had taken Lord Sugar to Tribunal claiming that she was ‘unfairly constructively dismissed’ has lost her case; this outcome vindicates the action of Lord Sugar and his senior employees and is what many are calling, ‘a victory for common sense’.
If we start by considering what is ‘constructive dismissal’; in essence, it can be described as being ‘an action on the part of an employer, whose consequences are so significant as to result in a fundamental breach of the mutual trust and confidence/contract between employer and employee’. This results in the employee resigning their position, an act which has to be taken by them at the time (or in the immediate aftermath) of the action by the employer which it is claimed amounts to that fundamental breach. Alternatively, the employee may resign at a later date and claim that a further and cumulative action by the employer amounts to ‘the final straw’. As the employee has technically resigned their post, constructive dismissal claims differ from other ‘unfair dismissal claims’ as it is the claimant who has to show that a dismissal has taken place.
Going back to the case; the basis for the claim made by Stella English was that the conduct of Lord Sugar in a meeting during September 2011 suggesting that her job was a sham and that she had only been put to work in YouView, following her resignation of her post in Viglen, was only done for the integrity of the television show. This meeting, it was claimed by Ms English was ‘the final straw’ and within her claim, she listed several other comments and incidents, which she alleged had been made by and involving senior members of Viglen and other associated companies which formed the Amshold Group.
However, littered throughout the judgement is evidence of e-mails sent by the Claimant which appear to contradict the claims that she has subsequently made to the Tribunal; within these e-mails, she talks about the positive contribution that she is making, that her team is responding to her well and that she is settling in and enjoying her role working within the Company. It is not clear from the judgement what prompted her to submit her initial resignation, but it is evident that at that time there did not seem to be any ill-feeling or malice toward the Organisation. Upon receipt of her resignation, Lord Sugar has then ‘pulled’ some strings to get her the role within YouView on a secondment basis and again it appears as though she accepted that position willingly and embraced it whole-heartedly, again leading to questions as to how she could later claim that she was an ‘over-paid lackey’.
In the meeting on the 28th September 2011, during which Ms English claimed ‘came the final straw’ which prompted her claim, Lord Sugar advised her that her contract with Amshold would not be renewed beyond its original end-date of 31st December 2011. Ms English had also been made aware by then that due to the particular situation of YouView at that time, that it would not be possible to offer her alternative employment at her current salary; but she was invited to submit a proposal to the Company to continue to deliver services to them as a self-employed contractor, an invitation it seems she declined to accept...
Immediately following this meeting, it then appears as though Ms English went AWOL from her role and was not heard from by Lord Sugar or anyone else within YouView until a few days later... And here’s the interesting point and which the Judge felt necessary to refer to in his judgement... On the same day that Ms English submitted her second resignation to Lord Sugar; a brief press release was also issued to the media from none other than... Mr Max Clifford, that very well known publicist!!!
So, on this one small point, it does seem as though the premise for the claim has been to springboard her into the public eye and perhaps to launch her next career... The question is; somewhere in television-land, is there a group of TV executives sketching out the next big reality show – ‘What Stella did next...’. OR, will Ms English just fade back into the obscurity that was her life before 2010 and her appearance on The Apprentice???
Whatever happens, having read the judgement it seems highly unlikely that she will be given any leave to appeal the decision and perhaps Lord Sugars’ comment on the outcome sums it up best... "There was never a case for us to answer but her need for money and fame meant that the whole system was subjected to this charade... I have been cleared of a derisory attempt to smear my name and extract money from me... The allegations were without substance, and I believe this case was brought with one intention in mind - the presumption that I would not attend the tribunal, that I would not testify and that I would settle out of court, sending Ms English on her way with a tidy settlement... I'm afraid she underestimated me and her reputation is now in tatters."
So why have I taken such an interest in this case; well firstly there is the degree of professional curiosity involved, but more importantly there is my love of watching ‘The Apprentice’ on the BBC. It is a programme that some would describe as ‘car crash’ television, you don’t want to watch it, but you have to see it through to the bitter end; just to see the immediate transformation from ‘happy and complementary’ when the teams don’t know the result to the ‘bitching and backstabbing’ once the losing team is named... Throughout each series, my one question that always remains unanswered is ‘why, would Lord Sugar (or anyone else for that matter!), employ (or engage as is now the case) any of the contestants’??? And as we enter spring 2013, the excitement is already building, the tension is growing – just what is this year’s group of contestants going to bring to the party...
Next week, we will return to Performance Management and consider the importance of Performance Appraisals...