The Apprentice – A Good Example of the Pitfalls in Employment Law

Love it or loathe it, The Apprentice can always be relied upon to force highly competitive, ‘lone wolves’ to work together. The result is a highly flammable dynamic that would give any manager a headache!

Whilst the personalities in the showhave been chosen to make great television, some of the issues that arise are unfortunately very real. Here we consider the potential employment rights that could arise if The Apprentice were a real workplace.

Bullying

With the pressure on, there was clearly a degree of friction between many of the candidates on the show, for example, amongst the Connexus team members. In the real world, it is not inconceivable that this could progress andresult in one of the team members making a complaint about the other for bullying.

Typically, employers will have anti-bullying policies and complaints of bullying will be investigated as a potential disciplinary matter. Bullying can also give rise to employment claims for the individual depending on the severity,such as: personal injury, actions under the Protection from Harassment Act and, if linked to a person’s sex, race, age etc, it could also be harassment (which is a form of discrimination).

Pitch Perfect: age discrimination

On last week’s episode Connexus pitched a cactus-themed shampoo targeted at the ‘grey pound’ to a panel of industry experts. The pitch was delivered by Natalie Dean,who boasted unrivalled sales experience, and predictably failed miserably. Dean presented a lacklustre pitch in which she rather unwisely labelled her target market as being “scared” of trying new things(a comment that Dame Karen Brady described as “offensive”).

Had these comments occurred in a real workplace, anyone finding them offensive (even if they were not directed at them) may have a claim for harassment given that they were linked to age (which is a protected characteristic). The fact that Dame Brady is not an employee would not be a get out of jail free card either, as discrimination law protects workers who are under an obligation to do work personally, which Karen clearly is.

Lying about your qualifications seems to be a mainstay of The Apprentice. However, this could be grounds for dismissal on the basis of dishonesty or for failing to have the requisite qualifications or capability for the role.

You’re Fired

Sadly for the candidates of The Apprentice, even if they were employees, the unceremonious “you’re fired!” would not necessarily create an unfair dismissal right (unless they had two years’ qualifying service or their dismissal was linked to discrimination or whistleblowing). So, even if there were not fair grounds for their dismissal, they could still be dismissed. However, an employer would still have to pay close attention to ensure that they gave all employees their contractual notice pay.