Oscar Pistorius: What if he worked for you? 8

by Frew Murdoch

The Oscar Pistorius trial has caused a sensation across the nation with everyone throwing their opinions about the trial around on social media and in everyday conversation. Oscar’s celebrity status has already blown the case onto international radars. This got me thinking: what would happen if Oscar Pistorius wasn’t a celebrity and he worked for your company? What course of action could the company take?

The Scenario

A high-profile employee (Oscar for convenience sakes) at Company X is suddenly caught up in the middle of a massive murder case. Oscar is charged with the murder of his grandmother after shooting her twice with a handgun.

How should Company X react?

Paul Jacobson – MD and digital strategist at Web•Tech•Law (Proprietary) Limited – recommends that Company X should not take a side.

“I would recommend that Company X adopt a neutral approach because, despite any apparent evidence or perceptions, Oscar remains innocent until proven otherwise. It should take the position that this matter is a personal matter and that it will not make any comment.”

Can Company X dismiss the employee or do they need to wait on the outcome of the case?

“I don’t believe that Company X would ordinarily be entitled to dismiss Oscar based on an allegation of murder. This may depend a bit on the company’s rules, procedures and contract with the employee but I suspect dismissing an employee accused of murder would be unjustified. What it may wish to do is first assess if Oscar is capable of performing his or her duties and, if not, that may be grounds for termination because of an inability to perform,” said Jacobson.

Should Company X be seen to support Oscar wholeheartedly?

“From a reputational perspective and because it may need to dismiss the employee down the line, the company should remain neutral on the matter and not express opinions,” Jacobson concluded.

The verdict

In the case of an employee of a company who has been accused of murder, or any other serious criminal offence, his or her company should remain neutral, not take any disciplinary action and not express any opinions to the media. This will help to protect the company’s reputation and prevent any legal action from being taken against them.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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8 thoughts on “Oscar Pistorius: What if he worked for you?

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Excellent – thank you Carla.  I do have personal experience of trying to get more than one abused wife away from physically abusive men – unsuccessfully.  In my experience the woman ends up losing her job for reasons like persistent absenteeism – because she doesn’t trust the management/supervisors in the company enough to tell them the truth.     

  • Carla Van Veenendaal

    The South african legal system works on the basis of principles, as opposed to previous cases that are more or less the same.  

    As lawyer, this case has given me the opportunity to teach a lot of people about misconceptions about law and specifically criminal law – from the usual cries about bail to the elements of the offence (legality, the act, unlawfulness and culpability) that need to be proven by the state, and done so beyond reasonable doubt and that an accused merely needs to create doubt about the state’s case, and about the fact that thank goodness we do not have a jury system in South Africa.  The outcry and lack of knowledge indicated by the social media indicates that we should never return to a jury system in SA. 

    Further, this case is indicating generally how biased the reporting of criminal cases has become towards prosecution and how unfair reporting has become.  I hope that the journalists have received a crash course in reporting fairly and to quit hanging an accused after the first state witness. 

    I also hope that the police is learning quickly that fouling up an investigation backfires big time when the defence counsel is slightly awake (of four matters I completed in the 2nd half of last year, three ended in acquittals). 

    Regarding the points on gender inequality and also gender violence – I am not so sure that this is a case in point.  However, the work to get a brutalised person away from a brute is not easy. Going to court and demonstrating is not productive.  Rather find the abused persons and get them away and do not allow them to go back to the abuser.  Convincing that person to leave is usually impossible.  I have also found that these relationships are about manipulation from the abuser as well as from the abused – with the abused not always being such an innocent mouse.  These cases belong in a psychologist’s office, not in the court room.

    Lastly, what would I do as employer?  Put the employee on special leave, with access to an employee wellness programme because it takes a lot out of a person who is accused of an offence (irrespective of type of charge eg fraud, sexual offences, murder, shop lifting, assault, stealing a docket). If he is convicted, the employer should have a policy in place regarding repayment of any salaries.  If he is acquitted (and it happens way more often than you may think) the employer should have a policy in place as to how to deal with the gossip and the return of that employee.  Most of my clients lose their jobs, so they end up being legal aid clients due to financial constraints, or I have to be extremely patient in waiting for my fees.  The self-employed end up closing their businesses because preparation for trial takes up a lot of time. The financial and emotional impact on an accused person facing trial is massive – whether eventually acquitted or convicted makes no difference.  Generally, employers just make it impossible for those employees to continue in their jobs, whereas the person needs all the emotional support he can get.  Most often, the employee doesn’t even disclose that he/she is up for some trial until the very last moment, because he is afraid of how the employer is going to react.  I am not touching on the situation where the employer is the complainant in a matter.

    And no, I am not following the trial…. I have some horrors of my own to defend.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Lia, you are so correct about that – there was a small report about a similar case in the same court house down the passage that no-one had heard about.  If the ANC Womens League (who I see have been attending) or any other women’s organisation can highlight the characteristics  of an abusive relationship to a wider female audience, I agree with Moira if one woman can have the courage to leave an abusive relationship, then some good will will have come from this tragedy.  In my opinion, unfortunately, too little is being made about the wider issue of violence against women.  

  • Moira De Roche

    If this case causes at least one woman to leave an abusive relationship – in or out of the workplace – then some good will come out of the tragedy.

    Another question – what about guns in the workplace. Do companies have policies about this?

  • Lia Marus Post author

    Thanks for your comments Peter, Sylvia and Moira. Moira and Sylvia: I totally agree with your comments and I think that we need to look at these workplace issues in depth. Personally, what gets me about this case is that there are hundreds of these types of cases that happen every month at the high court and no one knows about these. It’s only because Oscar is a celebrity that this case has been highlighted. 

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Thanks Peter and Moira.  I will definitely remember the expression: “more hangups than a delicatessen”. Another issue that would concern me in the workplace is behaviour towards female colleagues – would they be treated as equals, or emotionally bullied, shouted at, and intimidated?  

    This case makes an incredible case study for South Africans to examine our Constitutional rights to dignity and equality.  How much gender equality do we have – in relationships – and in the workplace?       

  • Moira De Roche

    I am pleased this case is a big issue globally because it highlights the gun issue. If you point a gun loaded with hollow points you plan to do maximum damage. If you want to believe he fired four shots not meaning to, then why did he pick up the gun. He is a very screwed up guy – so the real issue – should people who are that wobbly be allowed to have one, let alone several, guns? 

    If he worked for me I would find a way to get rid of him, because without doubt he is a liar. 

  • Peter David Joffe
    1. What disturbs me most about this whole circus is that it appears to be more about either finding Oscar guilty or finding him innocent. The truth may never be known as the witnesses are badgered and beaten into submission including Oscar. I foresee a great miscarriage of justice here. Oscar is clearly guilty of manslaughter but he seems to be a very mixed up kid with more hangups than a delicatessen.  One life was lost and another life has been destroyed but what place has justice in this??