Week Ten: The Apprentice analysed…

Things are hotting up on The Apprentice with Sir Alan putting the remaining wannabes under intense pressure.

In week 10 of the show Britain’s most belligerent boss sent the five candidates to a television shopping channel where they had to pick and sell products to a live audience.

Debra excelled and won a special mention from Nick, while Kate’s wooden performance came in for criticism from Sir Alan.

In the end, though, it was nice guy Howard who got the boot.

Our panel of employment lawyers give their views on the employment issues thrown up in the episode.

A woman’s world?

By Lisa Gillis, solicitor in the employment team at Withers

Only a month ago the Equality Bill was published and set out the Government’s intention to introduce new rights in respect of positive action in recruitment. Has Sir Alan been asked to spearhead a campaign to promote it or does the fact that four of the remaining five candidates are women actually raise a prima facie case of discrimination?

The legal niceties of the situation didn’t seem to bother the one remaining male, however, as James revelled in his self-proclaimed status as the Hugh Hefner of The Apprentice. Clearly, if James gets hired, Sir Alan’s going to need to provide some diversity training. If he doesn’t get hired, James might want to refer to the fact that this year’s tasks seem to have revolved around cleaning, beauty products, babies and shopping in support of a claim that sex discrimination caused his demise.

This week, however, it was excessive caution that led to Howard’s end. Having pointed out to Lorraine that her age is irrelevant (although then commenting that ‘age is experience’ was rather worrying from an employment law perspective), Sir Alan went on to reject risk averse Howard. Another hint perhaps that as lawyers we would be well advised not to apply for the next series?

The tortoise and the hare

By Hannah Ford, solicitor at Stevens & Bolton

“In tough economic times I have no time for ordinary people in my organisation”.

Sir Alan’s pithy reason for canning Howard is the unspoken business plan of employers for financial year 2009-10.

To stay in the race and out of the redundancy pool in the “squeaky bum time” of a recession, employees have two options: race like the tortoise (Howard) or race like the hare (Kate).

Howard’s tortoise tactics saw him steadily plodding his way to success, picking risk averse products and retreating into his shell at the first sign of confrontation lest he be noticed by his employer and selected for dismissal. By contrast, Kate was the flashy hare, quickly off the mark in picking the Benidorm dream combo of a gold leaf jacket and chip pan fryer, but then getting too big for her boots with a manic rock goddess performance that failed to generate sales.

Sir Alan’s decision to ditch the tortoise jarred with the fable’s message: “Steady Eddie” wins the race. However, Sir Alan’s world is behind a boardroom table, not an Aesop fable. In 2009, employers have to rely on their instincts and tailor their redundancy selection criteria to achieve business survival. To quote Sir Alan (and as is dawning on Sir Alec this morning) “Second prize, don’t exist”.

Television stars

By Alan Nicholson, senior associate at McGrigors

Chief bugler Sugar rallied the troops at Alexandra Palace this week, and gave them a task that should have been second nature. Go on telly, display a poor grasp of figures, and make a plonker of yourself.

With little regard for his information and consultation obligations under the TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] Regulations, Sir Alan again mixed up the teams to give us the best possible chance for fireworks.

With Debra out of the way, Howard politely seized the poisoned chalice of team leadership, but failed to ignite interest in the products. The chips were down when Lorraine spent more time eating the wares than selling them, and her instincts were again ignored as she failed to convince her team that a dinosaur would win the day. Sir Alan perhaps disagrees, as he sparked the weekly age discrimination alert by saying that “age is experience”.

Debra may be a tough employee to manage, but she took to the task like a duck to water, and it was James who dried up. Still, team leader Yasmina was spared a much-needed performance review, and led her squadron from the battlefield to go flying in a low budget remake of Top Gun. Despite a vote of confidence from Margaret, it was Howard who had more than his breath taken away this week.

Sex discrimination?

By Homa Wilson, solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker

Lorraine tip-toed around Kate’s hump having suggested that Howard looked better in front of the camera. Here’s an indication of how difficult it can be when discussing roles in the media, where image plays an integral part. Meanwhile, James tried to endear himself, by suggesting that having so many women around him made him some sort of Hugh Hefner Playboy impresario. That is one big time-bomb, on so many counts – for both him and his employer.

More than in previous series, this cohort seems to have acquired a rather Machiavellian boardroom technique, which revolves around surfing Sir Alan’s supposed waves of concern. Catch the wave, trot out a load of choreographed hollow business trite then try to blow everyone else out of the water in the process.

While Sir Alan seems to enjoy a bit of blood sport, perhaps what is lost on the hopefuls is the fact that Sir Alan also fans these flames, by playing a very good devil’s advocate. One week he wants a risk taker and the next week he wants a Steady Eddy.

This week Howard didn’t really do anything wrong; it was more a case of him not being deemed appropriate for the role in question. In this respect it could be argued that the process tended more towards real life.