It’s bizarre to think of Will Smith getting the sack. He probably doesn’t ‘need’ work in financial terms, so being let go has a lesser value for him than others, but nevertheless he should be booted out.
Yesterday at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Smith physically assaulted Oscars host Chris Rock live on stage for making a joke about his wife, actor Jada Pinkett-Smith. Rock’s joke wasn’t funny, but of course, violence is never the answer.
Smith assaulted someone publicly and, half an hour later, took the Best Actor gong for his nominated movie, King Richard. Most shocking was that after he struck Rock, he waited in a comfy chair with the cameras on him and no one asked him to leave, nor questioned his behaviour.
Smith may have been at an awards ceremony, but it was a work-related event where he was representing the King Richard film company, Warner Bros. Pictures. If Smith had been a manager in an office, would he have been able to continue sitting idly by after making such an attack?
In a professional environment, such behaviour could give rise to a potential lawsuit, according to Ivor Adair, partner at law firm Fox & Partners. “This incident may cause employers of high profile individuals to re-think what kind of behaviours they would tolerate and how they would handle a significant public incident,” he says. Similarly, an employer, such as Warner Bros. Pictures could even be on the hook “for any damage and losses” following an incident such as this while Smith was representing him.
Hours after the incident while stars were gathering at boozy after parties, a spokesperson for the Oscars said in a statement: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”
But their silence throughout the ceremony and their lack of public support for Chris Rock made another statement: the organisations and stars at the top of the entertainment industry play by different rules when it comes to being held accountable for abusive behaviour.
Adair believes a similar incident in another public forum could “give rise to a right for the employer to summarily dismiss the perpetrator,” citing that this sort of behaviour could be argued as “incompatible” with a business’ values, or putting the business in disrepute.
Smith’s overtly violent behaviour may have instigated a serious response had it happened in a UK office – but more subtle attacks are still going under the radar. 88 per cent of workers reported having been at the receiving end of verbal abuse in the workplace in a 2021 survey, and 9 per cent had been subjected to assault.
Often when employees do come forward about abuse, they are ignored, according to data from employer support service Protect. 65 per cent of employees who get in touch about abuse in the workplace experience negative consequences for coming forward, such as bullying, suspension and dismissal, with some voluntarily leaving a role to escape abuse.
The Academy could have sent a message by removing Smith from the building. It would have said to all in the entertainment industry: abusive behaviour will no longer be tolerated in the highest echelons of Hollywood – no matter the provocation. Instead, because of his cultural cache, and because the Academy were too fearful to hold him to account for his behaviour, their passivity has legitimised violence.