One of the players at Queens Park Rangers FC, Adel Taarabt, has not been playing very regularly of late. When asked about this back in October, manager Harry Redknapp told the Press that Taarabt was ”not fit to play football, unfortunately” and then referred to his not being able to protect people who are “about three stone overweight“.
A highly-paid but unfit player is an unhelpful burden. Of course, a player cannot help it if he is injured, but the clear suggestion here from the boss was that Taarabt is a bit of a bloater and causing his own unfitness through sheer lack of effort.
The standard Premiership player contract includes a provision that he will “maintain a high standard of physical fitness at all times and not to indulge in any activity, sport or practice which might endanger such fitness or inhibit his mental or physical ability to play, practice or train”. This is most usually applied to players found falling out of nightclubs at 3am with a Marlboro in one hand and a new little friend in the other (I particularly like the reference to “indulge” rather than “engage”) but it obviously has direct relevance also to those who simply eat too much and/or train too little.
For now, it appears Taarabt is safe. Apparently ‘clear-the-air’ talks were had in which Taarabt promised to work harder on his fitness, that commitment being rewarded with a triumphant return to the Reserves against Ipswich earlier this week.
If your capability or commitment in so fundamental a matter as your match fitness were called into question so starkly by your manager, to the extent that you are essentially publicly not trusted to do the job you were employed for, would you want to remain in that job? You could always resign, but could you do more? Could you possibly argue for constructive dismissal?
After all, this was a rather personal comment made in a very public setting, and must have been deeply humiliating for the player. His immediate reaction was to publish pictures of his stomach to prove he is not overweight. If that is really three stone overweight, Redknapp’s ideal midfielder must have the frame of Darcey Bussell.
The High Court discussed the impact of public comments made by an employer in RDF Media Group plc and RDF Media Limited v Clements in 2007. The Court stated that it was not relevant whether the negative comments made publicly were true or not. An employee could see the comments as untrue and damaging to his reputation, or true but of a personal and private nature. Both would be likely to seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence, and could therefore lead to a constructive dismissal finding, unless an employer could show reasonable and proper cause (for making the comment publicly, not for the contents of it).
It is to be presumed that if pushed Redknapp would now say that the reference to “three stone overweight” was hyperbole designed to make a point or get a laugh but that would not be a defence so far as a claim by Taarabt was concerned, especially since there was no equally public correction or apology. This is particularly so if the comments made go straight to the capability of the individual concerned. After all, the white-collar equivalent is a statement by your boss to, say, the Times or ITV News that although you could have been a candidate for the top job, the problem is that unfortunately you are just not really that competent. It may or may not be true but if it is (a) damaging; and (b) not necessary to say it in public, then your constructive dismissal claim definitely reaches the break a goal up.