Dismissed, Where is it Fair?

Gary Megson shouting

Now I’m not a lawyer and I’ve never been in court but I have watched enough episodes ofKavanagh QC on ITV4 and I did tolerate the whole series of the woefully poor Silk, so I feel fully equipped to tackle the subjects of employment law and unfair dismissal.

My interest in the law was sparked not by John Thaw’s overacting but by the shock sacking of Gary Megson on 29th Feb 2012.  The whole episode has started me thinking about where football lies in terms of fairness in employment.  A contract can be terminated without notice and without good reason at times. In the last few weeks nowhere has this been more prevalent than in League 1 as Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield have dispensed with their managers whilst being in third and fourth positions and both in strong positions for promotion.

Of course we don’t know what has happened behind closed doors so in essence this article is going to be trial by media but it is believed that Megson is himself, considering a claim for unfair dismissal under the guidance of the League Managers Association (LMA).

So does Gary have a claim?

The Law

Gary Megson has been in post for over a year so has the right to make a claim for unfair dismissal, unless he’s considered self employed by Sheffield Wednesday then the matter could get complicated.  If previous Wednesday player contracts are anything to go by this isn’t past the realm of possibility.

There are a number of ways that an employee can be sacked unfairly.

Your Employer says you are not capable of doing the job

So Wednesday are currently third in League 1 and 5 points adrift from the automatic promotion places but 11 points clear of the last play-off place.  The Owls have also won the most important Steel City Derby in years.  Any employer would be happy with that performance, right?  Wrong.  SACKED.

When Megson was selected for the manager’s job in February 2011, Milan Mandaric gave him one objective. ‘My target when I bought this club was promotion this season.’ As far as promotion is concerned then this is still a real possibility for Wednesday.  It’s unfortunate for Megson that this is one of the strongest League 1 promotion battles ever with both the Sheffield clubs, Huddersfield and MK Dons still fighting for that second spot.  I say second spot because Charlton didn’t have the winter wobble I was hoping for.  Unfortunately for Megson as well, when Mandaric said ‘promotion this season’ he obviously meant promotion automatically.

Could Megson have been capable of getting The Owls promoted?  We’ll never know. The momentum had shifted again after the derby and the motivation was there from the whole team, who’s to say that the team wouldn’t keep pushing for promotion.  If this was a normal business and an employee’s performance was still on track towards the overall objective then it would be unlawful to sack them.  Megson wasn’t underperforming in those terms.

Your Employer says you conduct has been poor

The Wednesday chairman cannot sack Megson based on his conduct.  Throughout his year in charge he’s been passionate, motivated and most of all loyal to the club.  Unless Megson has head-butted a member of the board in a House of Commons style attack, then his conduct has been true to his Wednesdayite beliefs.

Your Employer says you do not have the necessary qualifications to do the job

When Gary was employed by Milan Mandaric he said that Megson had been hired because he is a ‘top-drawer manager’ and ‘has tremendous experience in the Championship and Premier League and that is where Sheffield Wednesday needs to be.’  The chairman had the belief that Megson was the man for the job.

Let’s look at the promotion pedigree of both Dave Jones and Gary Megson to see whether Mandaric’s new choice means that Megson is less qualified to take The Owls up.

Let’s start with Gary Megson. His first experience of the play-offs was with West Brom in 2001 but they lost in the semi-finals to Bolton.  In the 2002 season it was Megson’s West Brom that overtook Jones’ Wolverhampton Wanderers to be promoted to the Premiership via the automatic places. So Mandaric may be able to claim that Megson doesn’t have the promotion credentials to help The Owls out of this league but if he knew what his previous experience was, why hire him in the first place?

Now let’s look at Wednesday’s new manager.  In 1997 Jones took Stockport County into the old first division through the automatics. In March 2002 as manager of Wolves the team were 10 points clear in the Championship and automatic places but in the final 9 games of the season they only picked up 10 points.  This led to Wolves losing in the play-off semis to Norwich City.

The following season, after a shaky start, Wolves were promoted to the Premiership via the play-offs beating Sheffield United 3-0.  Dave Jones may get extra Wednesday Nectar points for that one.

In the 2008/2009 season as manager of Cardiff City, Dave Jones kept them in the play-off positions for the majority of the season.  On the last day of the season Cardiff just needed to beat The Owls to stay in the play-offs.  The Owls beat them 1-0.  Any other play-off chance missed.

Another season, another play-off final.  In 2010 Cardiff lost 3-2 to Blackpool in the final. Are you sensing a theme yet?

Dave Jones’ final play-off outing was in 2011.  After yo-yoing in and out of the automatics, Cardiff finally finished fourth in the Championship and lost in the play-off semi-final to Reading.

Although Jones may have more experience with promotion and play-offs the overwhelming qualification his teams have is the ability to ‘bottle it’.

Your Employer says you have done something illegal

We’ve not heard anything shady about Gary but really…pot…kettle…black.  I suspect there isn’t a canine named account somewhere with Megson’s name on it.

Your Employer says you are redundant

Well as the club brought in a new manager in the same position only 48 hours after sacking the previous manager then it’s unlikely the club have told Megson that The Owls don’t need a manager anymore.

Or Some other reason your employer has given for dismissing you.

This could be anything so I’ll leave this one to our imagination!

Where Megson really has a case to argue is that there are certain clauses of unfair dismissal that make them automatically unlawful.  Discrimination being the majority of these cases.  Now I’m not suggesting that Milan has been discriminating against Megson about his gingerness but there is one automatic claim for unfair dismissal that may fit – Whistleblowing.

As we understand the situation, the Chairman/Manager relationship broke down when Megson reported Mandaric to the LMA for tapping up other managers whilst he was still in post.  Allegedly a week before Megson was sacked Mandaric was already meeting with potential new managers.  A claim that Mandaric denies.  If this was the final straw that broke the Serbian’s back then Megson could be in line for some monetary justice.

Sheffield Wednesday should note what our ambulance chasing friends keep reminding people of during day time television programmes…where there is blame there’s a claim.  I don’t think Milan has seen the last of Gary ‘MASSIVE’ Megson.

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