Newcastle United decided not to dismiss their manager Alan Pardew after he deliberately head butted an opposing team's player. Make no mistake - this was gross misconduct. The club have fined him £100,000 and issued a warning but not clarified if it is a final written warning. The fine is a huge sum to the average person. It equates to around 3 weeks' pay for Mr Pardew.
It's likely that senior management would say that HR had lost the plot if it suggested that a low paid employee should get a warning and a fine for head butting another person. Clearly account would need to be taken of any mitigating factors. However, there was very little provocation here - the opposing team's player bumped into Mr Pardew on the touch line in a rush to retrieve the ball. Worse still the event was on TV receiving widespread national coverage.
The employee is the second longest serving manager in the Premier League. However, his record is not unblemished as he has had run-ins with the authorities before. This actually makes it worse. Yes - he did make an immediate unreserved apology but frankly did he have any choice? It's also been suggested that such managers are under huge pressure. True but no other UK football manager has done this and his team were easily winning the game.
So why did the employer appear to take a lenient approach? Are the rules for football clubs different? No, I believe this is a classic case of an employer not wanting to dismiss someone who is viewed as a good performer at a senior level. There could be another explanation. When Mr Pardew signed an 8 year contract last year the press stated that it's terms were highly favourable to him. Press reports indicate his contract runs until 2020 without a break clause. However, it would be extremely surprising if the club had signed a deal that would result in them having to pay a significant contractual termination payment if Mr Pardew committed gross misconduct.
The law is clear that a fair dismissal has to fall within the band of reasonable responses. It does so if there is gross misconduct. However, not every act of gross misconduct will result in dismissal although keeping your job is usually the exception. Newcastle are currently eighth in the Premier League and performing very well. The financial sums at stake are huge depending on where clubs finish in the league. Would the club have taken the same decision if it was in the relegation zone?
My experience is that treating a very key senior employee relatively lightly is not uncommon where they are viewed as crucial to the success of the organisation. However, the business of a football club is played out in the glare of publicity. Most organisations can "bury" their controversial decisions. What the club has done is perfectly legal from an employment perspective. Whether you would do the same or you agree is another matter.