Carneiro v Mourinho: How damaging can a tribunal get?

Aye Limbin Glassey
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West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea - Premier League
Jose Mourinho was recently confirmed as Manchester United's new manager (Source: Getty)

Today marks the beginning of the eagerly-awaited employment tribunal between Eva Carneiro, former first team doctor at Chelsea F.C., and the club’s then manager Jose Mourinho.

Speculation is mounting as to how it might affect the career prospects of the parties involved; in particular Mourinho’s recent appointment as manager of rival club Manchester United. Although cases of this public magnitude are rare, business owners should pay close attention to proceedings, and take heed of the legislation that relates to this vital area of employment law.

During the opening day of the 2014/15 season, Carneiro rushed on to the pitch to treat injured Chelsea star Eden Hazard and, in doing so, caused the team to temporarily go down to nine men (Hazard was required to go off the pitch following treatment with the team’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois having already been sent off earlier in the game). This move prompted a public dressing down from a visibly frustrated Mourinho, leading to her removal as first team doctor and eventual departure from the club.

Carneiro’s decision to bring a case against both her former employer Chelsea F.C .for constructive dismissal, and against Mourinho for sex discrimination and victimisation, was not unexpected. In doing so, it is likely that Carneiro will force Mourinho to provide evidence in court and has prompted intense media scrutiny which could pressurise both parties to settle. However, what happens next should be of particular interest to employers.

Read more: Lessons from Chelsea: When can bosses demote their staff?

In taking part in these proceedings just weeks after his appointment into a new position, some could argue that the reputational damage and time constraints of the case are impacting upon Mourinho’s ability to fulfil the current obligations of his new role. The Employment Act 1996 states that employees have no right to claim unfair dismissal until they have accrued two years of service with an employer.

However, before terminating or withdrawing employment due to the negative effects of legacy employment tribunal proceedings or other events considered to risk its reputational damage, employers must first refer to the individual’s employment contract.

In terminating the employment of a senior member of staff, business owners must understand that while legally sound, this dismissal could have far-reaching implications for their organisation. Senior staff members are likely to have a lengthy notice period and may also have a buy-out clause or be entitled to some other form of remuneration upon their exit.

Crucially, any acts which relate to employees facing discrimination and/or victimisation claims from an employer or fellow employee do not require a minimum length of service.

Employers must be sure not to victimise against any potential employees who have brought tribunal cases against former employers. In rejecting the application of an individual such as Eva Carneiro on these grounds alone, businesses could find that they themselves are pursued at employment tribunal. In short, current proceedings should not prevent Carneiro from securing any new role for which she is the most qualified candidate.

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