On the eve of the Tokyo Olympic Games’ opening ceremony, it was revealed that the ceremony director, Kentaro Kobayashi, had been fired after it emerged that he and a partner took part in a 1998 TV Sketch where he and a partner had made jokes about the Holocaust joke.
The sacking comes just days after the opening ceremony composer Keigo Oyamada, was fired over historic bullying claims, resulting in a four-minute piece of music he wrote being withdrawn.
With the world becoming more conscious of past conduct, where do employers stand if they choose to take action over alleged historic misbehaviours?
We spoke to Suzanne Staunton, Employment Partner at JMW Solicitors, who told us:
“Employers should exercise caution when seeking to discipline employees for alleged historic behaviour.
“First, the evidence may be less cogent, which may make it harder for an employer to conduct an investigation. Second, the employer will need to look at the alleged misconduct, place it in its context, and look at all other relevant factors. If for example someone once held bigoted views, but changed those views, and then did a lot of work to promote diversity and inclusion, then it may be difficult for an employer to say that a disciplinary sanction was within the range of reasonable responses. At all times the employer should act proportionately, bearing in mind the passage of time, without repetition.
“Generally, when looking at tweets, employers will also need to be extremely mindful of employees rights to hold philosophical beliefs, and when seeking to put employees through the disciplinary process, will need to look at first, whether what was said might constitute a philosophical belief (which is a complex legal test), and second how they have manifested that belief. If that belief has been set out in a harassing and hateful fashion, then it may justify disciplinary action, as the employer is not then disciplining the employee for the belief, but rather, the vitriol used.”
Certainly, the Olympics are not done with ensuring that action is seen to be taken at such a high profile event.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo’s Olympic committee, said in a statement that Kobayashi’s entire ceremony is now being ‘reviewed’ just hours before it is due to be performed, adding: ‘We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow’.