Legal Advice for Employees
When dismissal feels really UNFAIR!July 07, 2017
Our Head of Employment Law Julia Beasley looks at the employment law aspects of a very public uncoupling….
Being dumped, feeling heartbroken, moaning publicly about how badly you’ve been treated…no, it’s not one of the inhabitants of Love Island but the former fashion director of British Vogue magazine.
This week Lucinda Chambers spoke out in a scathing interview about how her 36-year employment ended shortly after new editor in chief Edward Enninful arrived. At the time of her departure, the employer had said Ms Chambers would "step down". But in a fashion article that has gone viral, she put her side of the story in no uncertain terms:
"I was fired from Vogue. It took them three minutes to do it. No one in the building knew it was going to happen. The management and the editor I’ve worked with for twenty-five years had no idea. Nor did HR. Even the chairman told me he didn’t know it was going to happen. No one knew, except the man who did it – the new editor."
From an employment law perspective, this was almost certainly an unfair dismissal. It may also have amounted to unlawful discrimination. We’re assuming that Ms Chambers didn’t complain to her employer at the time. If only she had come to us for advice, we could have helped her to use the law to enforce her rights!
Any employee with at least 2 years’ service has the right to not be dismissed unfairly. That means the employer must have a fair reason for the dismissal, and there must be a fair process. Only in cases of gross misconduct could a summary dismissal be fair. In this case there is no mention of any gross misconduct. Ms Chambers should have been given the opportunity to answer the employer's concerns; unfortunately it seems she didn’t get the chance to state her case before she was dismissed.
We may never know if there might have been a potentially fair reason for dumping Ms Chambers. Poor performance can be a fair reason, as can various kinds of conduct. In her interview with Vestoj fashion journal she admitted that her work was sometimes "really crappy" and said “ I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life”. However she argued that everyone has “peaks and troughs”, which might be fair comment.
Perhaps the 57-year-old was dismissed because of her age? The fashion industry isn’t known for its tolerance of the not-so-young. Rumours have been circulating along these lines. As far as we’re aware they are pure speculation. We’ll just say that Ms Chambers wouldn’t be the first middle-aged employee who finds themselves ousted after a change in management!
Individuals who find themselves dumped – or just dumped on - at work should get legal advice asap. Time moves quickly in employment law terms, and it is necessary to act within 3 months of the act complained of (i.e. the dismissal or discrimination).
Employers should always follow a fair process and give individuals the chance to know when things are not going well. It’s important to keep communication channels open during difficult patches – otherwise the hurt individual might just take revenge publicly.
In this case, Ms Chambers published some choice remarks about the fashion industry and her former employer, including a dig that the clothes were “ridiculously expensive” (which we knew). She also admitted that she hadn’t read the magazine in years (which we didn’t know).
As in most cases of acrimonious public uncouplings in the workplace, the end result is that neither side looked great.