The Apprentice analysed…

Each week we watch as Sir Alan Sugar yells ‘YOU’RE FIRED!’ at one of The Apprentice wannabes.

More deliciously salacious is watching these wannabes trying to make the most of Sir Alan’s tasks. With only one six-figure salary on offer the contestants declare all out war to get their hands on the prize.

Inevitably, this raises questions about the ethics used by some in the reality programme. Our expert panel of employment lawyers discuss the legal issues raised in this show.

28 May 2008: What happened this week…

This week Sir Alan’s finger was poised to jab in the direction of the team raising the least cash from renting out sports cars.

Team Renaissance, comprising Helene, Claire and yawning team leader Michael, plump for a Ferrari F360 and a rare Spiker Spyder, while Alpha’s Lucinda, Alex and team leader Lee plug for an Aston Martin and rare Pagani Zonda.

Off they trot to flog the cars, with Renaissance team’s locations of choice Knightsbridge (understandable) then Portobello market (laughable).

Boy’s gang Lee and Alex in Alpha hit the Stock Exchange, where ‘turncoat’ Lee tells Lucinda to play somewhere else. She tries and unfortunately pitches the Zonda while standing next to the Aston.

Despite this, Alpha take the glory, with Sir Alan singling out Michael and Helene for Renaissance team’s failure, bullying Helene for looking like Mona Lisa while telling a deflated Michael that he’s lucky to be there.

Michael defies belief by stating that he has, in fact, shown “glimpses of
brilliance”. Sir Alan disagrees, finally giving him the boot.

Five left to go…

Ellie Hibberd, Dawsons

In every employment contract I draft I include a ‘full time and attention’ term. With some notable exceptions, this obviously wasn’t in the Apprentice contract.

Michael was more Ford Fiesta than Ferrari F360, seeming to have lost any enthusiasm even to try. Having spent several hours in a dead-end street in Knightsbridge, he then tried to sell a Ferrari at Portobello Road market, his efforts there ending in hounding the guy down the street, leaving the F360 to be parked in by the rubbish truck.

Though it’s been obvious from part-way through last week that Alex and Lee have, perhaps unfairly, wanted to put the brakes on Lucinda’s drive to be the Apprentice, last night she showed her old lack of initiative and effort, failing even to recognise she was selling the Aston Martin, not the Zonda.

Whilst Michael, Claire and Helene wasted their final minutes, Alex put pedal to the metal and secured an extra £5K for Alpha in the final seconds.

And finally, to everyone’s relief I think, Michael’s challenge ran out of fuel.

Alan Nicholson, McGrigors

At last! I was about to lobby Parliament to introduce ‘being Michael Sophocles’ as a fair reason for dismissal. The “natural born salesman” started badly by falling asleep at work. Health and safety is a serious issue, and Michael was in no fit state to operate heavy machinery like a Spytex.

Meanwhile, we await Lucinda’s grievance about Lee’s sexist bullying. She might have been the only bird in the team (or at least the only woodpecker), but she knew that the “Zona” was “heavier than a batmobile”.

To the boardroom, boy Wonder. And some marvellous legal chicanery from Sir Alan before this week’s finger-point. Like a little gnome fishing in the pond of age discrimination, Sugar almost let Michael off the hook because of youth.

“Who cares about his age?” blasted Helene, “it doesn’t give him more rights” (a direct quote from the 2006 Age Regulations). Spotting he was in deep water, Sir Alan fired the guy with less than a year’s service. And saved me the bother of writing to my MP.

Hannah Ford, Stevens and Bolton

Project Leader Michael left the starting line with more zoom than the Zonda, kicking off his efforts with “I am a natural born salesman…it’s in my blood”.

Flying solo from his team, he manoevred his Ferrari into a duff sales pitch, nestled between a dust-cart and a fruit and veg stall in London’s Portobello market.

Michael’s sales efforts and leadership skills continued to stall and unsurprisingly he was back in the firing line. Plucky though unprincipled, he played the only card left in his deck: youth.

In the season when tribunals have battered employers for making stereotypical assumptions that youth and incapability go hand in hand, it was perhaps Michael’s final “glimmer of brilliance” to use juvenile inexperience as a unique selling point.

As Helene and Michael squared up, Sir Alan appeared to have fallen for his closing submissions – employment lawyers were aghast as he referred to 32 year-old corporate-robot Helene as “tainted” by her seven-years’ experience.

Thankfully, after deliberation he did a u-turn, sending souped-up boy racer Michael back to the breakers yard.

Lisa Gillis, Withers

At team Alpha, results were not lacking but leadership skills were. Although Lucinda was clearly under-confident when it came to sales, team leader Lee packed her off alone to sell the Aston Martin.

Lee’s actions are typical of many managers faced with underperforming staff; they simply don’t want (or aren’t trained) to deal with the situation.

Unfortunately, if they fail to deal with it, this can make a dismissal further down the line much less likely to be fair. More worryingly, Lee’s determination to isolate Lucinda bears the hallmarks of a potential sex discrimination allegation.

In real life, unhappy Lucinda might currently be drafting a grievance, complaining about Lee’s ‘boy’s club’ attitude. Was she separated from the boys because she was a drain on their energies that needed to be focussed on selling, or because, well, in Lee’s mind, she’s just a bit too girly to be selling cars?

In the boardroom ultimately not even his “youth” could save Michael.

Helene lives to fight another day and to prove that sometimes ‘oldies’ have greater capacity to learn and more ‘drive’ than some employers might at first believe.

Kiran Daurka, Russell Jones & Walker

As the boardroom becomes ever more competitive, this week we question Sir Alan’s knowledge of the dismissal procedures and selection methods used in the boardroom.

While the dismissal procedures do not strictly apply to job candidates, their status as fully-fledged employees of the Sugar empire is highly arguable given that there is a clear requirement for them to carry out a task successfully under orders and to generate profit for Sir Alan (although we strongly suspect that project leaders are set up to fail without any clear job description or statement of duties).

The boardroom may well constitute a fair hearing, but where is the trade union representation for the candidates given that they cannot rely on their colleagues for support?

Interestingly, Sir Alan considered firing Helene for looking like the Mona Lisa, but failed to even mention the sales techniques employed by Michael, which included begging and stalking potential customers.

Still, at least young Michael finally got his marching orders when he realised that his defence of inexperience could no longer be used to mask his clear incapability.

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