It’s Time We Stiffened the Sinews

It’s Time We Stiffened the Sinews

Many years ago I wrote a booklet whose title mirrored the question put by some employers when faced with a problematic employee, “Can I Sack the B*****d?”.

Nobody would dare to say such a thing now, even tongue in cheek, but there’s no doubt that difficult employees still exist. The problem is that while bosses may be irritated with them, they are often too scared to do much about it. The result is that tail can end up wagging the dog.

Take the example of The Stand, which invited the SNP MP for Edinburgh Southwest, Joanna Cherry, to speak at an event during this summer’s Edinburgh Festival. Ms Cherry accepted.

Ms Cherry is a lesbian, gender-critical feminist who believes that gender is immutable. As a result, she is often described as trans phobic by trans activists. A convenient, if factually inaccurate and emotionally subjective label. (My old English teacher would have written “Sloppy!” next to any such description.)

In May, The Stand’s board of directors issued a public statement saying that some of its staff had expressed their concerns about Ms Cherry’s views, but the event would go ahead because “… we believe that people should have the right to express views that others might find controversial or strongly disagree with.” Well, jolly good for them, eh?

But this was soon followed by another statement, announcing that The Stand was cancelling Ms Cherry’s appearance after all. It seems that staff were unwilling to work that night. And on this occasion The Stand said: “We will ensure that their views are respected. We will not compel our staff to work on this event.”

Not all views were to be respected then. Just the staff’s views.

Man alive, what are they playing at letting junior staff dictate policy simply on the basis of their feelings to the Board? Staff are perfectly able to have their own point of view, but not to allow it to interfere with the work they are paid to do.

If they start throwing their weight around in this inappropriate fashion, it’s very easy to tackle such behaviour on-a case-by-case basis. While we accept that staff are entitled to their views, they are not entitled to refuse to carry out a reasonable management request. If your staff refuse to do the jobs you pay them for, simply because they don’t approve of someone’s mainstream, legitimate views, you can discipline, even dismiss, them.

The Stand’s corporate spinelessness is not unique and its dithering could cause it to end in hot water because they may face a legal challenge from those they fail to support. Read on ….

Ms Cherry took advice and posted on her website:

"Small groups of activists are now dictating who can speak and what can be discussed. ….Accordingly, I decided to seek legal advice on the issue and on my options. ….I have received the opinion of the eminent and leading human rights advocate, Aidan O’Neill KC who considers that The Stand have acted unlawfully. I am very concerned that those who hold perfectly legitimate views on a variety of issues, including women like me are regularly being misrepresented, de-platformed and, in some cases, facing damage to or the loss of our livelihoods. This is often accompanied by online abuse and threats. The debate on gender self-identification is a very important one which must be allowed to take place….”

It appears that if they give in to cancellation and discrimination on grounds of gender, and potentially philosophical belief, employers could be between a rock and a hard place.

Fortunately, the woke brigade are not the majority. Most reasonable people want to take a balanced and proportionate approach and have a factual discussion. That makes it bad business to allow staff to dictate what customers are allowed to buy, watch or enjoy.

Let Shakespeare’s Henry V give you a spot of guidance in considering your response to a refusal to carry out a reasonable management request because an employee or employees disagree with someone else’s opinion:

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; This call to war should cause men's* muscles to stiffen in readiness for battle and get their blood up, so they're ready for a fight.

*.. and women’s


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2023 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.