You have to feel sorry for Paul Marshallsea of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, sacked by his outraged employer after online footage went around the world showing him wrestling away a six-foot shark as it threatened children playing off a beach in Australia.
The reason for the employer’s outrage – at the time of his shark-wrestling exploits, Mr Marshallsea was signed off work due to work-related stress. Why was that an issue? Quite – we are also struggling to see this. Mr Marshallsea’s employer’s view was that, given that he was signed off sick, Mr Marshallsea’s exploits constituted such a serious breach of trust and confidence that dismissal without notice or consultation was the only possible course of action.
There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion that Mr Marshallsea had told his employers that his absence was due to a physical impairment, so it is very hard to see how they could have a legitimate complaint either that Mr Marshallsea was on holiday in Australia (something which apparently his doctor had recommended) or that he decided to get involved in some shark wrestling for a good cause. One can’t help but wonder therefore if there was a touch of the green-eyed monster at play. How dare he be enjoying himself on a beach in Australia while we trudge damply about in Merthyr Tydfil? One wonders whether he would have been better off pictured lying pale and inert under a palm tree while carnage reigned in the shallows.
Supposition aside, however, it does seem clear that Mr Marshallsea’s employers are on decidedly shaky ground when it comes to the fairness of his dismissal as this seems to fall far short of gross misconduct (indeed it’s hard to see how it constitutes any form of misconduct). They should also be more than a little concerned that Mr Marshallsea might argue that the real reason for his dismissal was his protracted sickness absence (9 months at the point of his shark episode) which brings with it the risk of a disability discrimination claim, or a personal injury claim arising from his work-related stress. Footage showing activities incompatible with someone’s claimed physical condition could easily constitute grounds for dismissal, but evidence of this sort is more or less impossible to obtain in stress and depression cases where doctors’ orders may well be to go somewhere warm and have a good time for a bit.
The irony of all this is that Mr Marshallsea worked for the Pant and Dowlais Boys and Girls Club – a children’s charity – and if nothing else Mr Marshallsea quite clearly had children’s welfare in mind when he decided to wrestle with the shark.
Unsurprisingly, since the story broke last week, the charity has been advised by its solicitors not to comment on the matter. At least they appear to have taken some legal advice, then.