Case Study

BBC sets precedent for employers following Clarkson's dismissal

26th March 2015

The departure of Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear has been headline news this week, provoking much debate.

On Wednesday, the BBC confirmed that Clarkson, along with fellow presenters James May and Richard Hammond had contracts that were due to expire at the end of March and that they had made a decision not to renew Jeremy Clarkson's contract.

The announcement came after Clarkson had been suspended following an allegation of misconduct. The allegation was that he had been involved in a row with one of Top Gear's producers, which resulted in Clarkson physically attacking the producer. The row was said to have been about whether hot food would be provided during a period of filming.  The investigation did show that the producer had taken himself to hospital following the attack and he had suffered swelling and bleeding to his lip. In addition, it was alleged that during the row Clarkson had used strong expletives and threatened to sack the producer.  

Top Gear is an extremely popular programme - one of the BBC's most successful, long-running series and the Corporation came under a lot of pressure to renew Clarkson's contract; an online petition was signed by more than a million people requesting him to be reinstated. However the BBC was clear that there cannot be one rule for one and another rule for others, and in light of the allegations and the evidence, it decided that not renewing Clarkson's contract was the appropriate decision.  Prime Minister David Cameron also said he believed that "if you do something wrong at work there can be consequences" and that "aggressive and abusive behaviour is not acceptable in the workplace".

For employers, there are a number of important points to take away from this scenario.
The first is the decision not to renew Clarkson's contract had nothing to do with his popularity or public opinion. The BBC quite rightly considered the precedent it would have set if it had renewed Clarkson's contract and allowed him to return to the Corporation. It is also important to consider consistency of treatment between individuals and, assuming that the BBC would have taken similar decisions with other employees where there had been evidence of physical or verbal abuse, then it would have been difficult and potentially risky to have treated Clarkson differently. Finally, the BBC have clear policies on bullying and harassment and rather than just paying lip service to these policies, they wanted to ensure that they were enforcing them, which is something all employers should ensure that they do.

For information on the department's services or employment related issues, please contact the employment team on 0845 111 5050. 


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