HR policies: Can employers fire England’s rioters?

As this week’s rendition of “London’s Burning” slowly replaces The Clash’s ubiquitous 1977 song atop search engine results, Britons are awakening to a fearful and divided nation.

While condemnation of deviant behaviour has been nearly unanimous, explanations for 4 nights of riots throughout England have been astonishingly diverse. 

Ongoing police racism and brutality, unequal social opportunities, unsuccessful immigrant integration, cuts to benefit programs, failed political leadership, and pure antisocial greed have all been proposed as root causes.

The reality, I suspect, is a toxic blend of all of the above, left to simmer by spineless politicians and the shallow and scandal-obsessed media that all-too-often drive our public dialogue.

Much like in the aftermath of June’s Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, Londoners have rallied on social media to support their police force, community clean-up initiatives, and the identification and prosecution of vandals, looters, and crooks.

Londoners have taken to the streets with brooms.

While the cause of the UK’s riots is (and their eventual resolution will be) much more complex than the drunken sports-related blur that was Vancouver’s, English employers can still learn from Vancouver’s experience.

A number of newly infamous Vancouverites saw their images and identities exposed online, and were quickly fired by their indignant employers. While many terminations were no doubt earned and accepted, unfair dismissal cases and allegations of wrongdoing have slowly started creeping up.

Reacting quickly, decisively, and within the confines of the law is key to successfully navigating the ethical and public relations fiascos of employee rioting.

Britain’s employment laws are complex, with individual contracts sometimes superseding acts of parliament. When firing rioters, it’s important to ensure certainty of process and of wrongdoing. Over the past few days, many people have been rendered homeless by fear and fire: Don’t make someone’s tragedy worse by firing them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Dismissal with cause: This is your standard employee dismissal, following the protocol of verbal and written warnings established in your employment agreement. Unless your rioting staff have a long history of workplace disciplinary issues, it’s probably not a safe way to terminate them.
  • Dismissal without cause: Subject to laws regarding discrimination and individual employment contracts, any employee can be terminated without cause, provided they are given notice or pay in lieu of notice. UK notice requirements range from 24 hours for employees with less than 4 weeks tenure, to 12 weeks notice for those with 12 or more years tenure.
  • Instant dismissal:“Instant” is a bit of a misnomer. In proven cases of “serious or gross misconduct”—which no doubt includes active rioting—an employee can be terminated without pay, notice, or disciplinary escalation, provided that you:

    1. Put the allegations in writing.

    2. Give the employee the right to appeal with the assistance of a colleague or union representative.

    3. Do not violate their employment contract.

While many London rioters were no doubt young unemployed members of the criminal underclass, opportunistic elements of the middle and upper classes no doubt joined in the chaos. The police will not be able to prosecute all of them.

Allowing a known looter to remain in your employ can prove to be extraordinarily harmful to your business: Honest firms should not retain dishonest employees.

Show England’s most wretched degenerates that society doesn’t tolerate wanton vandalism, destruction, or disrespect towards hard-working merchants and citizens. Consider giving their jobs to the countless law-abiding unemployed—in many of the worst-hit neighbourhoods, job seekers outnumber job openings by 50:1 or more.

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