Employment Law Update – Ensuring Punishment Fits the Crime

I found this article relating to Employment Law which I thought may be of interest. So here it is for you

A controversial decision at Eden Park last week has lead in many rugby supporters view to an unfair outcome.

On Saturday Wales played the French side in the Rugby World Cup. 18 minutes into the game Irish referee Alain Rolland made the decision to send off the Welsh captain, Sam Warburton for what he considered to be a spear tackle against Les Bleus winger Vincent Clerc. Warburton was indeed guilty of lifting Clerc in the tackle. It was clearly a penalty and merited a yellow card, but – without consulting further – Rolland decided to issue a red card and Warburton was sent off. The shock was palpable; even the French fans felt the decision was unduly onerous. The final score was Wales 8, France 9. It has been very widely commented that the wrong team has gone forward to play the All Blacks in the final.

Businesses can learn from this incident. When dealing with disciplinary matters, employers may well reach the conclusion that the employee is guilty of a breach of some rule that the case has been made out and then have to consider a sanction. It is vitally important to ensure that any punishment ‘fits the crime’. The sanction should reflect not only the severity of the offence, but where you are in the disciplinary process, i.e., is it a first minor offence or is it the third time you have disciplined the employee for the same or a similar offence? Is the matter very serious, which might merit dismissal for a first offence? You must also properly consider any mitigating factors, such as length of service, general track record, remorse expressed by the employee (if any) and his commitment to meet standards in the future?


As a general rule, if there’s any whisker of doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution. That’s understandable. If you deprive someone of their livelihood, it is a serious matter. If the employee then re-offends while the warning is live you have given him every possible opportunity and support and he must expect the ultimate sanction.

Giving too oppressive a warning can be regarded as a breach of contract and you could face a constructive unfair dismissal claim. Make sure the reasons for your decision are clear, consistent with the organisation’s disciplinary practices. Mr Rolland will go down in rugby history as the referee who made a very poor decision. It’s not likely to be a career enhancing moment for him. Make sure you check all the facts and that your decision is correct, proportionate and justifiable.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in the practical application of employment law as well as providing employment law training and HR support services. For more information, visit our website at http://www.russellhrconsulting.co.uk or call a member of the team on 0845 644 8955.

Russell HR Consulting offers HR services to businesses nationwide, including Buckinghamshire (covering Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Banbury, Northampton, Towcester and surrounding areas), Nottinghamshire (covering Chesterfield, Mansfield, Nottingham, Sheffield, Worksop and surrounding areas) and Hampshire (covering Aldershot, Basingstoke, Reading, Farnborough, Fareham, Portsmouth, Southampton and surrounding areas).

Kate Russell started Russell HR Consulting in 1998 and now divides her time between advising businesses of all sizes on HR issues, and delivering a range of highly practical employment law awareness training to line managers, including a range of public workshops. Her unique combination of legal background, direct line management experience and HR skills, enables Kate to present the stringent requirements of the law balanced against the realities of working life. She is a senior presenter for several companies and a popular public speaker. Kate completed an MA in strategic human resource management in 2004.
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