With the start of the soccer World Cup, it brought a somewhat unusual issue to the fore – employment law. How? Well with just one day before the commencement of the competition and two days before their opening match against Portugal, the Spanish football head coach Julen Lopetegui was rather unceremoniously sacked from his role.
The decision, taken by the Spanish Football Federation’s President, was undoubtedly a shock. Performance was certainly not the issue at the heart of this dismissal – since Lopetegui’s appointment in 2016, the Spanish side have won 14 of the 20 games with the remaining six being draws.
Nonetheless, the President’s reasons for the dismissal were clear. A few days prior, Real Madrid announced to the world that their new head coach would be none other than Julen Lopetegui – once Spain’s World Cup campaign was over. It has been stated that the Spanish Football Federation were not made aware of this information until 5 minutes before the press conference to announce his appointment as the new coach took place. The President outlined that he felt that this was not the way the situation should have been managed and that it left him in a difficult position, feeling that he had no choice but to sack Lopetegui.
The situation gives rise to interesting employment law questions. When trying to navigate senior employees’ exists from companies and firms, employers like to be given notice well in advance in order to manage the PR side. In any event, it would seem like 5 minutes’ notice was hardly sufficient for such a high profile role, but employers should properly consider notice periods – and any restrictive covenants – when having them in an employee’s contract.
The point which the President is really getting at though is a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. Whilst there is no suggestion that Lopetegui’s actions would make him any less fit to manage the side through the World Cup, the issue was how Lopetegui dealt with the whole situation which arguably resulted in the Federation’s belief that the trust and confidence in him as an employee had been broken irreparably.
While such a high profile dismissal could be considered to be risky, the dismissal no doubt sends a message that employees should be loyal to the national team and Lopetegui’s dismissal also serves as an example of what can happen if contracts, and the spirit of those contracts, are not adhered to.
This situation highlights the continuing importance of the implied term of trust and confidence – a term which both parties are subject to and which requires them not to act in such a way as to destroy the relationship which is essential to the working environment. Whether the President’s move on this basis will have an impact on the national team however, is a very different question…