Reading and hearing about Malky Mackay and the trouble he’s got himself into this weekend has been really depressing. First we get the bungled apology from the League Managers Association trying to argue he had just been letting off steam and engaged in “friendly banter”, (they’ve since had to apologise for that) and then the apology from Malky himself acknowledging he said inappropriate and unacceptable things in what he says were 3 out of 10,000 messages, before going on to argue that he is no racist, sexist, homophobe or antisemetic. I was glad to see he agreed to submit himself to equality and diversity training.
What depresses me is how often we see these stories in the news. Recently it was the PA who published her boss’s sexist emails. But equally I see these arguments in every harassment case: the person who has done the harassing trying to justify their offensive behaviour, seeking to trivialise it and defend it as ‘just a joke’ or harmless ‘banter’, possibly even arguing that the person who was subjected to the harassment had joined in. It’s not often you see the actual legal test for harassment on the grounds of protected characteristics being discussed in the news coverage of these things or any explanation that the feelings of the person who is the subject of the ‘banter’ counts when a court decides if the law has been broken. My fear is that people hear the ‘banter’ defence and come to view that it legitimises the conduct in discussion.
I’m glad that Crystal Palace have shelved plans for Makay to move there in the light of this scandal as at least that sends out the message that those who conduct themselves inappropriately in the workplace can lose their jobs, but as the Secret Footballer points out, its probably a temporary state of affairs while the fuss dies down and Makay will no doubt work again. Often I’ve seen employers move a problem employee on within the organisation rather than moving them out: therein lies a danger as an employer is potentially vicariously liable for any acts of their employee. A wronged employee is more likely to complain to the employer and when they do all eyes are on the employer: do they take the complaint seriously and uphold the statements made in their dignity at work policies or do they undermine all that by downplaying what’s happened as mere banter? Until organisations take a stronger line, unfortunately we’ll keep hearing these stories and all the dignity at work training we do is undermined each time one of these stories is in the news.