Sacking of Andy Gray – employment law offside?
by Robert Dillarstone, Managing Director and Laura Burke, Solicitor
Employment & Employee Benefits Department, Greenwoods Solicitors LLP
Following the sacking of Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray, Robert Dillarstone, employment lawyer and MD of Greenwoods Solicitors LLP, takes a look at whether his actions may amount to sexual harassment and whether Sky was justified in dismissing him. What lessons can be learnt by other employers from this high profile story?
The recent comments made by Andy Gray and Richard Keys about assistant referee, Sian Massey, have been well publicised. The pair were disciplined about their comments but Gray was subsequently sacked for further ‘unacceptable and offensive behaviour’. This was due to his conduct caught on camera, making suggestive comments to fellow presenter, Charlotte Jackson.
Sexual harassment occurs where unwanted conduct relating to sex has the purpose or effect of violating another’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
This means that any employee of Sky Sports who heard the comments may have been offended, even if Sian and Charlotte weren’t themselves. Similarly, Gray may not have intended to offend either woman, but if this was the effect, it would amount to harassment.
Even though the comments were made off air, they were still made in the course of Gray’s employment and as such, Sky Sports can be held vicariously liable for them.
Many claim that the comments were just ‘banter’ and par for the course in a male-dominated industry. However, employers cannot be seen to be tolerating harassment and the move to dismiss Gray sends a clear message that such behaviour will not go unpunished.
Claims by Gray?
It is now being reported that Gray has instructed solicitors in relation to his dismissal. As a Sky employee for the best part of 20 years, he will no doubt claim that the dismissal was unfair and disproportionate – particularly in light of revelations that other presenters have also made potentially sexist remarks and Sky Sports has failed to deal with matters consistently. Furthermore, Gray may be advised to claim compensation for damage to reputation and loss of future employment prospects.
Lessons to be learned
So how can employers protect themselves in such situations?
Employers have a potential defence against claims of sexual harassment committed by employees if they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from making such discriminatory remarks. Such steps may include:
• Implementing effective and updated equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies;
• Ensuring managers and employees receive adequate training on such policies and understand what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable; and
• Ensuring that complaints are dealt with properly under the correct procedures.
Undoubtedly, Sky Sports found themselves in a difficult situation with such a high profile figure. However, it is a timely reminder that what might be deemed as banter in the workplace, can actually fall foul of discrimination legislation and have serious consequences.
Interestingly, the comments made by Keys and Gray have done nothing to deter women from entering the industry as the FA reports that they had been inundated with calls from women interested in becoming football officials.
If you require any clarification on this issue or need advice from a member of Greenwoods’ Employment & Employee Benefits team, please email: email@example.com in the first instance.
The information contained in this article is intended to be a synopsis only. Before acting on it, you should take professional advice.
Written by Robert Dillarstone, Managing Director and Laura Burke, Solicitor Employment & Employee Benefits Department
Greenwoods Solicitors LLP, Monkstone House, City Road, Peterborough PE1 1JE.
Tel: 01733 887700 Website: www.greenwoods.co.uk
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