Newstalk’s Off the Ball Resignation: The shock departure of the award-winning ‘Off the Ball’ team from Newstalk’s 7.00pm to 10.00pm slot has left many wondering what happened or how did it come to this, however there are some key points to be aware of when looking at the situation, and seeing where to now for Eoin McDevitt, and his four colleagues – Ken Early, Ciaran Murphy, Mark Horgan and Simon Hick.
The issue has been widely discussed in the last number of days, with a large number of observers and media experts having differing views on the teams en masse resignation, or the stations inability to keep the team on the air (however it should be said a number of proposals were supposedly put on the table). However we will look at what can be taken from this situation for Employers when dealing with workplace discussions or developments.
Resignations and the Heat of the Moment
We have previously looked at “Heat of the Moment” decisions taken by employers and employees and the potential ramifications that can stem from this, such as the case of Sothern -v- Frank Charlesly & Co  IRLR 278 where it was held that there may be exceptions to the resignation rules as in the case of an immature employee or a decision taken in the heat of the moment which may not in fact be an effective resignation at all. A refusal by the employer to allow the employee to retract or revoke or remain in employment may in those circumstances be deemed to be a dismissal.
Changes to Contracts or Working Hours
However the ‘Off the Ball’ case can be slightly different as this decision was taken following long running discussions with Management regarding the direction of the show and possible developments to the schedule. Management at the station were firm that they could not facilitate an earlier start time due to George Hook’s “Right Hook” show running from 5.00 pm to 7.00 pm which is seen as during the peak drive time hours (7.00 am – 7.00 pm) and so the most commercially viable hours for advertising revenue. Employers should be aware that when speaking to employees regarding a change of hours or a change of working practices, there should be an open communication on this and employers should ask for the employees to specify their requests in writing so as to formalise any response, however there is no obligation to facilitate such changes or amendments if they are not suitable to the business needs. such requests can happen after a return to work from a long period of absence such as maternity leave, carers leave, sick leave etc. where the employee wishes to reduce their working hours and it is important for employers to engage with employees on this, hear them out and formulate a reasoned response to any request, be they acceptable or not.
Notice Periods and Payment in Lieu of Notice
When looking at what now for the ‘Off the Ball’ team it has been reported that the five are currently under notice and so cannot take up an alternative role until this time has elapsed. Employers should be aware of two important clauses when looking at these scenarios, one being payment in lieu of notice where an employee is paid a sum of money (normally their wage equating to the notice period) and the contract can terminate from that date. The alternative is where the employer effectively tells the employee they need not work until the end of their notice period and they get their wage as normal during this period. The would not be permitted to work elsewhere and remain an employee until the end of the notice period. This is called “Garden Leave” and seems to be what has been applied in the ‘Off the Ball’ case, and is used in many cases where employees are entitled to a large notice period and an employer in a bid to protect their interests does not want them working this time, either for the Company or another Company.
The final issue which has not been specifically addressed in the ‘Off the Ball’ case is that of Restrictive Covenants, whereby an employer would have an employee sign an agreement not to work with a competitor when they cease employment. it would be difficult in this sense as in radio broadcasting there are limited areas to go when moving jobs and restrictive covenants are limited by geographic location, time, and reasonableness and it may be unreasonable to expect someone whose career is in radio broadcasting to not work for another broadcaster. however for employers who have trade secrets to protect this is a genuine option to protect the wellbeing of the Company once an employee has left.
There is no doubt that the ‘Off the Ball’ teams departure has left a void in evening radio, and they will find a way back on to the airwaves very soon, however from an Employers point of view the above issues are essential when retaining talent in a business and when looking to protect that business once the talent leaves. For the moment however we may have to look elsewhere for our ‘Country Pages’ fill each week…