The thing that I like about employment law most is that its based on stories. Stuff happens in employment law cases that is simply more interesting (to my mind) than the stories that revolve around tax law or conveyancing.
Inevitably this means that some of the stories that crop up will play well in the press. A good example today is an unfair dismissal case recently decided by the Employment Appeal Tribunal: Daughters v Aqua Financial Solutions
This has been reported by the Mail under the headline ‘Financial advisor sacked for reducing client to tears by demanding to know why she was only drinking spritzers’ The Telegraph use the headline ‘You’re not drinking enough, financial adviser told her tearful client’.
Now actually there isn’t much wrong with the either paper’s reporting of this case – although I am almost irrationally infuriated that the Mail refers in its subheading to an ‘Industrial’ Tribunal. No, apart from that, both articles are fair enough. Inevitably the facts have been simplified and the more interesting aspects of what the employee did have been highlighted. It would be silly to winge about this too much.
What interests me is that the report illustrates the sort of case that gets publicity. There are a number of aspects to this case that make it reportable:
1. Alcohol is involved. Misconduct cases that result from employees doing or saying something stupid when drunk always make for a good read. It also fits in with a current debate about whether we have a binge drinking culture. Are there also undertones here of it being particularly shocking when it is a woman who is getting drunk?
2. Some really good swearing. In this case the Claimant called one of the clients a rude name. I won’t repeat it here because I don’t know what sort of spam I’ll get as a result. The Telegraph gives us no clue other than that the name has four letters. The Mail gives us the first letter – and the judgement of the EAT spells it out in all its Anglo-Saxon glory
3. A good photo. Both the Mail and the Telegraph use the same photo of the claimant enjoying a day at the races. Without wishing to judge, she doesn’t seem to be the sort of person who would just sit quietly in the corner, sipping a spritzer and chatting about interest rates. The photo in this case really adds something to the story.
Spritzers feature heavily in both reports. The word is only used once in the 22 page EAT judgement and is by no means the centre of what the case is about. I’m not complaining here – I don’t think either the Mail or Telegraph is obliged to explain BHS v Burchell or the obligation on a Tribunal to explain its reasoning. Its just that I doubt journalists have been trawling the EAT website to find interesting stories to write and that both papers happened to hit on the Spritzer line independently. So presumably one side or the other has fed this story to the press? Since the Claimant has won the appeal (though that by no means implies that she will win her case) it might be that she herself sought to publicise the case? Is the photo that both papers have used one that she has supplied?
What puzzles me is that – surely -no-one emerges particularly well from this story. If I was involved on either side I would want to keep the whole thing very low key. Is the publicity being used to try to force a settlement? Would that work? Is the party in question happy with the coverage? I’d love to know.