England women’s manager Mark Sampson has been fired after historic allegations surfaced surrounding ‘inappropriate and unacceptable’ behaviour in his previous role as Bristol Academy manager. Enrique Garcia, employment law consultant – ELAS.
A safeguarding assessment into the allegations, which were made in 2014, found no threat and Sampson had previously been cleared to continue working as a football coach. FA chief executive Martin Glenn said: “No law was broken but we felt that, during his time at Bristol, Mark had overstepped the professional boundaries between player and coach. The reason that we have parted company with him was that, while the safeguarding team did their job on their specific narrow front, nobody else within the FA was alerted that what he had done was not something you would be comfortable with for an FA employee.”
A third investigation is also underway following allegations of discrimination, racism and bullying from England players Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence. Two previous investigations – an internal FA investigation and an independent review led by barrister Katharine Newton – cleared Sampson of any wrongdoing and found ‘no systematic evidence’ for the claims made by Eniola Aluko. A parliamentary select committee hearing is set to hear evidence over these investigations next month.
It’s vital than any allegations of discrimination are taken seriously: Allegations of discrimination are serious and need to be investigated fully and in great detail. In this case, although two investigations have cleared Sampson of any wrongdoing, the allegations have not gone away and the investigations that have been carried out have been criticised.
It can be very hard for someone to come back and rebuild their reputation following an allegation of discrimination, whether it is founded or not, and some have suggested that that is what has happened here. The FA denies that saying that they dismissed Sampson for conduct that fell below that which was expected of an FA employee, but now face strong criticism from many parties regarding the previous investigations.
Anytime where there are failures in an investigation it can lead to a discrimination claim, which in turn can lead to unlimited compensation being awarded by a tribunal. It is therefore vital that all companies take any allegations of discrimination seriously and handle their investigations properly. Where an alleged perpetrator denies the allegation, it just compounds the need for a detailed, serious and comprehensive investigation which will enable the employer to make the best decision, based on the facts.
A rounded investigation should be a fact finding mission in order to find out what has happened, exploring all the facts and possibilities. It should not be a witch-hunt aimed at only finding out evidence about the person who is subject to investigation, likewise it should not be a cover-up aimed at protecting them at the expense of the person who has made the allegation.
If the allegations are upheld, then it will be necessary to take action e.g. disciplinary action and possible dismissal. The employee should be invited in writing to a disciplinary hearing. They should be given at least 48 hours advance notice, a clear date, time and location of the hearing. It should be made clear who will be chairing the meeting, the allegations against them (these need to be clearly spelled out giving dates, times and detail) and forewarning of the possibility of dismissal. All the evidence in the case must be enclosed with this letter.
The disciplinary hearing is your chance to go through the allegations and evidence with the employee who is subject to investigation and to take their comments on board. It should be chaired by someone who is not involved in the allegation or investigation in any way. The employee must be given the right of appeal to have the matter reconsidered or reviewed.
The FA has stated that Mark Sampson was dismissed for falling below the standards expected of their employees. It’s important that all companies have clear policies in place spelling out what is acceptable conduct and what is not. They should also have a clear list defining what constitutes gross misconduct i.e. things that are so bad they could lead to immediate dismissal.
The most important thing is to ensure that all conduct rules are applied fairly and consistently for all staff as unequal treatment can lead to unfair dismissal and discrimination claims.