Listeners to The Archers will know that, finally, there is a really good story line being played out at the moment. The Ambridge Organic Dairy, purveyors of ice-cream, cheese and yoghurt run by the terminally wet Tony and insufferably smug Pat Archer (Pol Pat to listeners)has been hit by an outbreak of ecoli, which infected several people at a Country Fair, including two small children who have been hospitalised as a result.
Ambridge Organic faces ruin as a result, not just from having their products taken off sale everywhere but from the prospect of being sued by the victims. Couldn’t happen to nicer (fictitional) people.
The infection was imported into the dairy by an employee, Clarrie Grundie, wife of ne’er do well Eddie, when she returned to work too soon after having a bout of diarrhoea. She put that down to a dodgy sausage eaten at a BBQ whilst on holiday, but that remains intriguingly unexplored. Tests carried out by Environmental Health prove that Clarrie was the carrier.
Already Tom Archer, son of Tony and Pat and sausage maker extraordinaire, has been pushing for Clarrie to be sacked in order to “protect the brand” by demonstrating to the outside world that they have taken steps to correct the cause of the problem. Tony and Pat, showing her softer side, are strongly against it and have pointed out that it would do them no good, won’t restore their reputation and may look like an admission of negligence if they do subsequently get sued.
It looks like Clarrie will escape the axe, but what are the pros and cons?
Three reasons in favour of sacking her;
- She broke the Dairy’s clearly stated and well understood policy on infection control, requiring any person who has been unwell like this to remain away from work for 48 hours after the last “incident”. She went back after about 40 hours.
- The business has been brought to its knees as a result and has been closed since the outbreak over 10 days ago. Its best customer, the local department store, has dumped them, the premises have had to be specially cleaned at great expense and all staff, including Clarrie, are being paid whilst the dairy is closed. The local newspapers have been camped outside the farm and the outbreak has been front page news in the local rags. The owners have suffered massive reputational damage and face potential financial ruin.
- She was the source of the infection. If the employer doesn’t dismiss it will be accused of complacency and not treating its infection control policy seriously
Three for not;
- She is an excellent, normally reliable, worker with an unblemished record (as far as one can have an unblemished record on a soap opera) of over 15 years’ loyal service.
- It was an honest mistake. She forgot about the last bout of illness and genuinely thought she was safe to return
- Clarrie has shown contrition. She is mortified that she has been the source and especially at the thought of having been the reason for two children being in hospital as a result. My guess is that the storyline is now going to turn towards her suffering depression as a result. Already she is avoiding neighbours and friends and staying indoors. Financial ruin awaits for the Grundys (again) if she loses her job. What good would sacking her now do?
Personally I wouldn’t sack Clarrie, who despite having an irritatingly whiney voice, is one of the genuinely decent characters in the series. Now, had it been Susan Carter, I would gladly have seen her sent to the gulags in Siberia for at least 30 years hard labour. That’s drama I guess; they never get the right ones. Why did Nigel Pargeter have to fall off the roof at New Year?
I digress. If Pat were to sack Clarrie she would probably be legally justified in so doing. Clarrie’s actions were a clear case of misconduct and a breach of the dairy’s well known policy. Dismissal would be within the range of reasonable responses by which employers are judged by Employment Tribunals.
I don’t expect them to do that though, although Clarrie may resign of her own accord. What would a normal employer in the real world do? That’s the great thing about drama it allows these dilemmas to be played out.
So, what would you do?