Mark Higgins, partner and head of employment solicitors Ralli LLP speaks on Nigel Adkins’ sacking from Southampton Football Club.
It is very rare for leading football club managers or players to choose an employment tribunal as the place to resolve disputes. This might seem surprising in view of the apparently arbitrary manner in which club owners hire and fire their key people.
However, for many of the 49,000* individuals who have brought unfair dismissal claims during 2012-13, the reason will be clear. Firstly, determining whether a dismissal is fair or unfair is not about deciding whether the dismissal was morally just or unjust a fact commonly misunderstood by the uninitiated. Although an employer does have to rove that the dismissal fell within one of the recognised categories (such as conduct or capability, this is not something which often proves a great obstacle to overcome. And the more senior the dismissed employee, the easier it can be to make out a case of poor performance and a need to respond quickly.
Secondly, even where a claimant does successfully prove unfair dismissal, the award of compensation is often swallowed up in legal fees (unless he or she was fortunate enough to have had the benefit of legal expenses insurance). Although steep legal fees might not prove too much of an obstacle to highly paid employees, they too are faced with the fact that compensation is limited by the so-called statutory cap being the lower of either one year’s pay or £74,200. Rich or poor, the sums often don’t add up.
So why has Adkins bothered? Well, it would not be appropriate to speculate about a case which has yet to be heard, let alone determined. Nevertheless, whatever the facts and outcome of the case turn out to be, there is some validity in the assertion that the right of employees not to be unfairly dismissed is in practical terms severely shackled in modern employment law.
*Ministry of Justice Statistics www.gov.uk
Mark can be contacted on 0161 832 6131