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Employment lawyer explains why sacking Chris Whitty's 'harasser' was correct move
1 July 2021, 14:34 | Updated: 1 July 2021, 16:44
'Do you want to be shown houses by someone who's attacked the CMO?'
This employment lawyer tells James O'Brien he would have sacked the man who accosted Chris Whitty because his reputation means he can no longer 'carry out his work'.
Lewis Hughes, 24, has apologised for "any upset I caused", adding if he made England's chief medical officer feel "uncomfortable" then "I am sorry to him for that".
James began by asking Paul in Manchester, an employment lawyer: "If it was your estate agency would you have fired him?"
Paul said: "Yes I would. Although it's not entirely clear cut what the law is on this area because the ACAS code even says you can be charged with a criminal offence and still work for your employer.
"In this situation, the question you'd ask is, can he continue to carry out his work in this workplace given the reputation issues with the customers, what's the relevance of the conduct to the workplace?
"He has committed a criminal offence of common assault at least, if not public order offence, and you've got to think about the customer base - people being shown houses by someone who's just, therefore, attacked perhaps one of the most important people in our society at the current time."
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James then replied: "Does the identity of the victim of your conduct influence the gravity of the conduct?"
"Absolutely," Paul replied.
"You're selling your house, you've got a choice of fifteen estate agents, and you pick the one where the viewer has just attacked the Chief Medical Officer at the height of the pandemic?"
"And the 'boys will be boys' defence?" James asked.
Paul replied: "He can run it, and he might get away with it because these questions are questions of fact for an employment tribunal. When it gets down to it, 95% of these cases are decided on a question of fact. Was it fair and reasonable in all the circumstances?"
It is not the first time Prof Whitty, who has taken a central role in decision making and communications in the Government's response to the pandemic has faced public harassment.
Earlier this month, he was confronted in a street in Oxford by a man accusing him of lying to the public about coronavirus, while in February a man accosted the chief medical officer outside Westminster.