UNISON Assistant General Secretary Bob Abberley is an active supporter of our campaign and speaks to us in a personal capacity
Much of the debate over recent days has been whether John Terry should be allowed to play or should he be banned following his alleged racist comment directed towards Anton Ferdinand, the argument against a ban being he is “innocent until proven guilty”.
How would this situation be dealt with in other workplaces? Firstly, there is no direct parallel because the matter (including any disciplinary sanction) is being handled by the FA rather than the player’s club, who legally is the employer. Some professional workers are subject to disciplinary action from both their professional body and their employer, doctors, nurses and Lawyers for example which is similar to this situation.
Most large employers will have a disciplinary procedure and some will also have a harassment procedure and an allegation of racial abuse could be dealt with under either procedure. Most harassment procedures link into the disciplinary procedure if the allegation is proven.
The disciplinary procedure will have different levels of misdemeanour with “gross misconduct” being the most serious. A person found guilty of gross misconduct could face a final written warning (any further similar offence would lead to dismissal) or dismissal. What both procedures have -which is pertinent here- is the ability to suspend a person(s) whilst the investigation is carried out. An accusation of racial abuse would almost certainly be considered gross misconduct and, lead to a suspension.
Suspension is not an assumption of guilt and is on full pay and should not be protracted.
The ACAS code of practice (a best practice guide for employers and unions) outlines the way suspension should be used.
So, in an ordinary work place it is possible to be banned (suspended) whilst maintaining the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. I think if this situation occurred in most public sector employers, John Terry would have been suspended and if found to be guilty would be facing dismissal.
The other issue which has been the subject of debate is the matter is being investigated by the Police and if they find there is no case to answer then how can FA take action. The answer is they use different criteria, Criminal Courts will use the test of “beyond reasonable doubt” whilst the test for industrial tribunals and workplace disciplinaries is the “balance of probability” which is a less rigorous test, and the one the FA would probably use in this case.
It is my view the FA and the clubs involved face a huge test in how it responds to the high profile cases currently under investigation. If handled wrongly we will take a huge step back in our fight against racism and the current situation serves as a reminder to us all, that the progress that has been made in eradicating racism from football and society is very fragile indeed.
Bob Abberley, Assistant General Secretary UNISON - speaking in a personal capacity