As a Sunderland fan and HR Consultant, I have been following with interest the Di Canio story and his alleged political view. It also throws up an interesting debate about how far an employer can go in relation to determining the political views of an employee? As well as how much cognisance does an employer take of press coverage. For many employers it may be more important what is reported in the press than the actual facts given that reputation is something that employers will seek to protect.
A recent case decided in the European Court of Justice decided that employees had a right to hold political view and that they should have some protection in law from an employer dismissing them for holding their views. The case involved an employee who became a BNP councillor in Bradford and was employed as a driver who had customers to transport from all over Bradford. The company dismissed him because of his political opinions. As he did not have two years’ service he could not make an unfair dismissal claim. The European Court of Human Rights agreed with him that he should have been able to challenge his dismissal even though his political views were distasteful. In a democratic society it is a fundamental right that people can hold whatever political view they subscribe to.
It would have been interesting to see what decision the European Court of Human Rights would make if the person would have been able to make an unfair dismissal claim. It is now likely that the Government will have to amend the law to make dismissal for a political view a day one right rather than a two year right.
The press coverage of the Di Canio story was in my view typical of some of our media in that it seemed to mostly sensationalise the story. I would dislike the idea that my football club has a manager with fascist views but in trying to ascertain what the truth was, had I relied on the media, I would have struggled, in particular with the tabloid press. When you look into a story like this you realise that what the press write seems to have very little to do with facts and more to do with having a good headline. It has actually led me to stop buying my normal newspaper!
The line for employers would seem to be that it is an individual right to hold a political view of any description. If however an employee brings that opinion into the workplace in a way that offends other employees or customers then they should be warned to stop and if they do not, then they may face dismissal.
Steve Cave is a HR Consultant from Sunderland with over 20 years experience in employment law, having held senior roles for ACAS and One North East. He is currently a Director at HR Consultancy firm, My HR People as well a consultant to Equality North East.