Last week, the Football Association (FA) dispensed with the services of its shortest-serving England manager after just 67 days in the role and following only one game in charge. Sam Allardyce (Allardyce) was removed from his position last Tuesday after reports revealed that he advised undercover reporters (posing as businessmen) on how to circumvent the FA's third party ownership rules. The FA stated that this amounted to a "serious error of judgement" and "inappropriate conduct", which undermined the integrity of the game.
Allardyce was previously investigated by the BBC's Panorama for impropriety in 2006 in a programme called "Football's Dirty Secrets", when he was accused of accepting bribes from agents to sign players. Reports state the latest revelations are the result of a 10-month investigation by The Telegraph to uncover corruption in football. However, the actions that have led to Allardyce's departure post-date his appointment to the role. Therefore, the due diligence the FA will have likely undertaken as part of the recruitment process will not have revealed these issues.
There are several measures employers can take during the recruitment process to try and protect themselves against appointing individuals who will bring the organisation into disrepute. For example, employers should:
- Carry out thorough pre-employment checks to safeguard the organisation and certify the information they are relying on. Employers should be transparent and open with candidates about the process they intend to adopt.
- Adopt a cautious approach to use of social media when researching candidates' backgrounds. Employers should ensure that they limit their searches to only target information relevant to the decision whether to employ the individual. Employers should also remember that employment laws on discrimination apply to online and offline checks in equal measure.
- Undertake due diligence to satisfy themselves that candidates will not discredit the organisation or cause difficulties with colleagues or clients following their appointment.
- Seek references from previous employers. Where previous employers reference events that occurred several years ago, these might no longer be relevant to a candidate's suitability. However, where employers are regulated, they may wish to set tougher conditions that must be met to qualify for the role, or include warranties in the contract of employment to cover the risks associated with the information revealed.
- Consider where their information has come from before using it. Where information is already in the public domain, it may be legitimate for an employer to rely on this. However, employers should not rely on information based solely on rumour or suspicion.
- Make provision for any specific rules and regulations that will affect the employee.
Where the candidate will be subject to certain regulations, employers may wish to include a clause in the employment contract that encompasses the duties under these regulations. For example, the contract could include a term that states "you will abide by all your duties including all regulatory duties".
Where an employee's misconduct only arises after their appointment (or only comes to light following the recruitment process), employers should be careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction and instead assess whether the behaviour in question justifies disciplinary action. Employers should carry out any disciplinary processes in accordance with their policies and procedures to ensure that they take a fair approach. It may be that the employee is simply given a written warning, but, in the most extreme cases, an employer may wish to terminate the employment contract.
If a fixed-term contract does not allow for early termination, an employer can only end the contract early without breaching it if the employee has committed a repudiatory breach of contract. It is reported that the FA has entered into a settlement agreement with Allardyce, though, due to the confidentiality of the agreement, it is not clear on what terms. Had the parties not entered into this mutual agreement, the FA may have been able to justify dismissal without notice on grounds of gross misconduct. To do so lawfully, it would have to show that Allardyce's actions fundamentally undermined the trust and confidence between himself and the governing body, essentially amounting to a repudiatory breach of contract.
It is unclear at this stage whether The Telegraph's investigations will thrust any other managers into the headlines: only time will tell. However, any manager who encourages or condones a breach of the FA's regulations is likely to face severe questioning and, potentially, disciplinary action.
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