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Charlie Duff

Sift Media

Editor, HRzone.co.uk

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News of the World – employment lawyers reaction

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Employment lawyers have reacted to the News of the world news. The uncertainty surrounding newsroom staff at the paper, based at News International, and rumours regarding their treatment have alarmed some in the field.

Although the allegations against the paper and it’s management and behavious has been shocking it was still surprising when the closure of the 168-year-old tabloid was announced. Although its red-top status may have made it a figure of fun and the odd less than complimentary nickname in some circles, the fact remains that in a world which has seen sales drop through the floor it was still shifting many, many copies and employed a full staff of crack journalists who were rightly proud to be working for a very well-read publication.

However with the ethics brought into disrrepute and no sign of then-editor, Rebekah Brooks falling on her sword (rightly or wrongly) Murdoch decided to call it a day. How this has been handled from an employment law perspective is beginning to come to light with some reports suggesting staff were told they were to be paid three months’ pay in lieu of a consultation of the loss of over 200 jobs, while others claim Brooks is tasked with finding alternative employment for employees.

Here is what employment lawyers have been saying:

Richard Smith, HR expert at Croner, said: “The News of the World statement acknowledges that the paper’s owners have made mistakes which have resulted in the closure announcement. However, this is an insufficient reason alone for dismissing employees.

“If it is true that many News of the World employees will lose their jobs by this action, Croner believes that it will be a case study of how not to handle redundancy. On the face of it, this is an appalling situation for the paper’s employees.

“Although we are not yet aware of the full facts, the News of the World situation may present a number of issues from an employment law perspective. As with any of the thousands of businesses that Croner advises from an employment law and HR perspective, this is our advice:

1.    A firm cannot make hundreds of people redundant without consultation; there appears to be a clear breach of the provisions of the relevant legislation in this situation.

2.    There is a great danger of claims for unfair dismissal unless alternative work is being offered within the company.

3.    If, as is rumoured, a new Sunday newspaper will take the place of the News of the World from News International, there is a possibility that this may be subject to a TUPE transfer and will therefore give staff rights to transfer.

“Leaving aside the law, the process of informing employees of the closure has, in Croner’s view, been brutal and lacked best practice. It also brings into play other aspects of corporate governance covered by UK legislation.

“If it proves to be true that News of the World journalists have paid bribes to obtain information, good financial management of a company should have made it difficult to conduct business in this way. Supervision of such activity is required under the Bribery Act and, if there is no proper system in place, senior managers can be liable for criminal offences. Employers should ensure that proper standards are known and enforced in any business by communication, training and dealing with transgressors.”

Tom Walker, Head of Employment at law firm Manches, added: "Should a journalist lose employment at News Corp it will be interesting to see if they may face reputational problems in finding new work.”

He continued: “In exceptional cases, an employee can claim ongoing loss of income arising from breach of contract where an employer’s conduct has been so poor as to breach the trust and confidence with its staff."

Philip Henson – Partner, and Head of Employment Law, of City Law firm Bargate Murray gave his view too, saying "News International may take a commercial view and attempt to settle employment related claims; especially when they recall the bullying and discrimination claims brought by Matt Driscoll in East London Employment Tribunal. With my cynical hat on I suspect that bespoke compromise agreements are being churned out in Wapping at this very moment.

In view of the many tentacles of News Corporation, of which News International is a subsidiary, it is likely that there will be efforts to find suitable alternative employment for NOTW staff elsewhere. Perhaps Journalists will transfer to a new-fangled, News International, owned Sunday title, or be rebranded on line?

I hope that the National Union of Journalists will now show its teeth, and come out fighting for its members.”

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Charlie Duff

Editor, HRzone.co.uk

Read more from Charlie Duff
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