" "

Disciplining Gary Lineker – was the employer right?

14 Mar 2023
by Sharma Solicitors

On March 9, the BBC suspended a top sports presenter, Gary Lineker, because of a tweet criticising government policy.

In a row about BBC political impartiality, director general, Tim Davie, removed Gary Lineker from presenting Match of the Day. He had to reverse that decision.

So, was the BBC ever entitled to take serious disciplinary action against a worker because of a private tweet?

Grounds for disciplinary action

Employers can discipline staff due to his or her breach of obligations regarding their employment contract, statute or reputation.

The statutory obligation operated when care homes sacked unvaccinated health workers due to government regulations. Yet, no such statutory imperative fits Gary Lineker’s situation.

Media reports suggests that there was no clause in Lineker’s contract that prevented him from airing political views through using social media. He argues he was freelance and not staff. Leave aside HMRC’s current claim that he is staff and not a contractor, what else was there?

Criminal conduct

Employers typically have staff policies around reputation and conduct. Employment tribunals make judgements about staff dismissed staff due to criminal charges or convictions unconnected to their employment.

Typical offences include sexual conduct, violence or dishonesty. An employment tribunal will take into account the employee’s length of service, status, relations with colleagues, the impact on the business of the employee’s charge or conviction.

In Gunn v British Waterboard 1981 case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal heard that an employee was sacked after breaking into a surgery to steal drugs. The tribunal rejected his plea that his behaviour did not affect his job and upheld the dismissal based on his colleague’s reaction to him and his employee’s reputation.

Nothing there was relevant in Gary Lineker’s case.

Reputation and guidelines

Reputation is a factor in staff policies regarding their conduct as employees and the BBC has to worry about being seen as impartial in its news and current affair coverage.

The BBC Royal Charter, renewed and laid before Parliament in 2016, states: ‘…the BBC should provide duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world.’

This is supported in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines to staff. Section 4.1 states: ‘…The external activities and public comments, for example on social media, of staff, presenters and others who contribute to our output can also affect perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality…’

Editorial guidelines concern BBC output. There are also social media guidelines that state: ‘…when someone is clearly identified with the BBC and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately and in ways that are consistent with the BBC’s editorial values and policies…’

While after referencing news, guidelines say BBC employees should not: ‘…express a view for or against any policy which is a matter of current party political debate…’

This is why the Mail on Sunday in its comment piece on 11 March 2023 argued that Lineker  ‘outrageously breached the BBC’s sacred impartiality’. MPs and members of the government, who oversee the BBC Charter, demanded action from the employer.

Guidelines are not contractual

But, hang on a minute. There is confusion. Were guidelines part of Mr. Lineker’s contract? There would have to be a reference to those guidelines in the main terms of his contract to provide grounds for an employer to discipline him.

There is also confusion as to whether the guidelines concern BBC staff and freelancers, let alone whether they are about news production. Gary worked in sports for BBC through his company Gary Lineker Media.

Of course, Gary Lineker was not using BBC output to promote his views. He used his own Twitter account. Plus, BBC’s Editorial Guidelines promote freedom of expression.

Clauses in contracts, employment and otherwise, need to be clear and unambiguous to be enforced by an employment tribunal or other court. Contracts also have clauses that are more enforceable, or important, than others. A contract with clauses that a reasonable person would uphold are the basis for disciplinary action.

In terms of guidelines, in general and about social media, employers should provide their employees with a staff handbook or other similar documents. Enforcing those same guidelines are complicated.

 

Photo credit: TheAsianAwards

Tagged

disciplinary employees employment law Gary Lineker social media

Related News Stories

Executive faced a ruined career after botched sacking

Executive faced a ruined career after botched sacking

An advanced mental health practitioner was recently awarded over £60,000 after he was sacked without a fair process. An employment…

Read more
CBI scandal: what if your employee is accused of a serious crime?

CBI scandal: what if your employee is accused of a serious crime?

The CBI has been rocked by accusations of rape and sexual misconduct. With its reputation in tatters, members leaving by…

Read more
F-words at work – OK, but saying ‘baldie’ – not

F-words at work – OK, but saying ‘baldie’ – not

Swearing at work was ruled acceptable by one employment tribunal judge, while another gave out £71,000 in compensation when a…

Read more
Employer punished for unfair sex assault dismissal

Employer punished for unfair sex assault dismissal

Government agency bosses used a flawed procedure when firing a top foreign envoy for a sexual harassment accusation. The British…

Read more
Employers face legal traps over home working

Employers face legal traps over home working

Employers risk making poor and costly decisions in response to employees asking to work from their homes. Two cases have…

Read more
Employers are punished for sacking bad workers

Employers are punished for sacking bad workers

A judge slapped down an employer who failed to follow a fair procedure when sacking a nurse for being racist.…

Read more
Managers’ confused performance assessment leads to big payout

Managers’ confused performance assessment leads to big payout

A well-known clothes store's flawed promotion and assessment process landed them with a £96,208 judgement at an employment tribunal. Bristol…

Read more
Frustrated manager’s decision leads to unfair dismissal

Frustrated manager’s decision leads to unfair dismissal

An employer lost an unfair dismissal case after summarily sacking an employee rather than go through a fair procedure. London…

Read more
Protected conversations expedite dismissals

Protected conversations expedite dismissals

The government has increased the scope for employers to sack employees without the threat of court cases. The new law…

Read more
Tesco gets burned by its fire and rehire tactics

Tesco gets burned by its fire and rehire tactics

A high street giant’s attempt to cut their staff bill was slapped down recently due to employment law. The High…

Read more
Tribunal defends  cross-dressing engineer

Tribunal defends cross-dressing engineer

A landmark court ruling has boosted employment lawyers’ chances of protecting ‘sex change’ workers from harassment and unfair dismissal. Birmingham…

Read more
Government demands employees return to work  – but not just yet

Government demands employees return to work – but not just yet

Government have changed their advice on telling employees to return to the workplace due to a spike in virus infections.…

Read more
Job redundancy or unfair dismissal

Job redundancy or unfair dismissal

The looming end to the government’s job subsidies in November will lead to some cynical bosses using redundancy to victimise…

Read more
Sickness sacking is valid without medical expertise

Sickness sacking is valid without medical expertise

A rail company did not need extensive medical evidence to sack an employee for being too sick to work. Employment…

Read more
Court upholds sacking over a Christmas overtime row

Court upholds sacking over a Christmas overtime row

An employment tribunal in November 2016 decided that a company fairly dismissed a worker when her refusal to do overtime…

Read more
Good employer loses appeal in migrant right to work case

Good employer loses appeal in migrant right to work case

Foreign workers have a right to appeal if they face dismissal over doubts about their UK residency status, appeal judges…

Read more
Jaw-jaw before war-war

Jaw-jaw before war-war

New legislation compels people in a workplace dispute to talk before going into legal battle in a court. Whether they…

Read more

    Sharma Solicitors is Regulated by Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number: 403199)