Is Jeremy Clarkson an example of a workplace bully?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you may have noticed that the one of the hosts of the TV show Top Gear has been suspended due to an ‘altercation’ with a producer. As more details hit the media, I need to ask the question, is Jeremy Clarkson an example of a workplace bully?
I want to start by saying that I have watched the show over the years and enjoyed it. But what has really caught my attention with this story is the enormous amount of pressure on the BBC to reinstate him. There are online petitions and even the British PM has jumped on the bandwagon. He is well liked and therefore the public have been quick to excuse his behaviour.
What we don’t know (and shouldn’t know) is the history of his previous behaviour. We don’t know the details of complaints made in the past or whether he has been counselled on this before. He may have received warnings that if he did this again, he would be putting his job at risk. This may also have been his first offense.
The BBC is an employer. They have to protect all their employees from workplace bullying and harassment. As a HR professional looking in, they are doing all the right things. They have had a serious incident occur in their workplace and are following a process of investigating further to gather the facts before they make any decisions. This is hard enough to do when you are not under full media scrutiny and the person accused is not a popular TV personality on a show that makes a lot of money for your company.
The first thing that crossed my mind is that this is not that much different to what happens in companies every day. I can think of many examples of employees that are known to be bullies but are also top performers. They bring in high sales or they have been with the company a long time and have so much knowledge that management is hesitant to deal with the situation as they are worried about the repercussions to the bottom line.
So you find that the bully gets away with a lot of inappropriate behaviour. There are ‘informal’ chats in the hope that they will just change but no consequences to their actions. The victims are told to excuse their behaviour as ‘that is just how they are’ or ‘they don’t really mean it’. By the time the situation reaches a point that it can’t be ignored anymore, there is a whole history of management turning a blind eye to their behaviour.
In Australia employers have a legal obligation to provide a workplace that is safe for all employees which means free from workplace bullying and harassment. The inaction of management tells employees that this behaviour is acceptable. The courts are seeing more and more cases every year and the penalties are rising. The highest fines and compensation payouts are given in cases where there was a known problem that was ignored or mishandled.
I don’t know the answer to my question. I don’t have all the facts and I certainly don’t believe everything I read online. I hope that the BBC are allowed to follow their processes and deal with the situation based on the facts. I certainly think that Jeremy Clarkson has the right to be heard and treated fairly.
But I would like to leave you with one final thought. If you or a member of your family was being bullied at work, how would you like it to be handled by the employer? I am sure that you would want a workplace bully to have consequences for their actions, regardless of how well liked they are or who they are friends with.