When computer programmer Thomas Anderson arrives late to his job at Metacortex, his boss, Mr Rhineheart, gives him a thorough telling off and threatens to fire him if he is not at his desk on time “from this day forth”. Is this draconian approach the right way to manage lateness among employees, or would Rhineheart have handled the situation differently had HR been involved?
Treating workers like naughty children is an uncomfortable power play, echoing being sent to the headteacher, and this ‘master and servant’ relationship isn’t really reflective of the modern workplace, says Kim Bradford, managing director of Sphere HR and Sphere Data Protection. “Refusing a seat to an employee for a meeting – as Rhineheart also does to Anderson in the film – is an unpleasant intimidation tactic, as are threats to one’s job, making assumptions and a patronising approach,” she adds.
Failing to look for a cause of poor conduct or performance could also breach an employer’s duty of care, warns Bradford, and may leave them “wide open” to harassment, bullying or discrimination complaints, which can all add up to unfair or constructive dismissal.
But formal disciplinary meetings and threats of termination have a number of protocols and rights to be observed under UK law, she highlights: “A meeting or discussion invitation, accompanied by a statement of any alleged wrongdoing and any evidence being relied upon, are required as a minimum – as is advance notice of such meetings and the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative.”