Taplin, Tempest and Flanagan will delight any audience with talks encompassing a range of challenging themes.
The chairman of national firm Freeths is leaving the firm in the wake of an Employment Tribunal decision which demolished his credibility as a witness.
Colin Flanagan was criticised by the tribunal for his conduct dealing with Mike Taplin, a high-performing partner, when the lawyer began showing signs of a mental health crisis and then told an absolute stinker of a joke at a real estate conference.
In the course of ruling that Freeths had discriminated against Taplin, the tribunal heard how Flanagan justified taking charge of handling Taplin because Freeths operated its business to "minimise bureaucracy" and supported people in a "less formal" and "very human way".
Freeths' chilled approach to personnel matters may require revision after Flanagan admitted he did not initially consider that Taplin had a serious mental health condition because Freeths staff were "often" struggling with stress.
The tribunal said it was "remarkable" that Flanagan dealt with the issue by himself even though Freeths had an HR team and a specialist employment law department at its disposal.
As part of his amateur hour HR work, Flanagan sent Taplin an "insensitive" email which made heavy use of sporting analogies.
Telling Taplin to “recognise that you are entering the final phase of your career”, Flanagan wrote, "You have lost a yard of pace and can no longer expect to bang in 30 goals per season. You must drop back into midfield and don’t try to cover every blade of grass of play every game. You can stay on as 'club captain' but leave the captaincy on the field to someone else (i.e. Janet)".
Flanagan added that everyone had been much happier since Taplin had signed off sick. "There is also a different atmosphere in the office and again, this is a positive change. It is important that you work with Janet to preserve this. It involves you avoiding the frenetic and pressurised way of working which you are used to", he wrote.
Later Flanagan visited Taplin's home, and the Tribunal was damning of his failure to enquire about the medication which Taplin volunteered he was taking. Flanagan claimed it was because "it is not for the firm to delve into medication – it is a personal matter", but the Tribunal said his explanations "quite simply make no sense...they are not convincing, they are not consistent and not credible".
Flanagan also told the partner to be "more jovial around the office", said Taplin, which the Tribunal described as "irresponsible and reckless".
"To give an instruction to someone with a depressive mental health condition who is taking medication (you have failed to enquire into the effects of), to in effect ‘cheer up’ or at least to appear to be more positive, is grossly insensitive", it said.
In the midst of his mental health crisis in 2018, Taplin spoke at a real estate conference where he told a joke about a team from Freeths carrying out a site visit in a jungle and meeting cannibals carrying spears, with a punchline comparing the size of his penis and two other partners' penises to the cannibals'.
At the same conference another Freeths partner, Ian Tempest, showed a slide of 'forthcoming attractions' which featured the face of a woman who was joining the team next to a picture of Pamela Anderson in a swimsuit, and followed it with a picture of himself bearing the job title ‘National Head of Porn'.
After the conference a third partner, Darren Williamson, emailed Flanagan and other partners reporting that "All in all I think it was a success and the presentations gave it an informal 'family' feel which I thought was spot on", before emailing the national real estate team to inform them that that the presentations "mirrored our approach to collegiality perfectly".
When complaints began arriving which suggested the event hadn't been quite as family friendly as Williamson had portrayed, Flanagan convened a disciplinary group which resulted in a decision to suspend Taplin, but not Tempest.
Flanagan did not disclose to the group that Taplin had been suffering mental health issues, and the Tribunal said Flanagan's excuse that it was because he didn't appreciate that Taplin's mental health was a relevant factor was "utterly unconvincing".
Stating that Flanagan was not a credible witness, the Tribunal concluded that Flanagan had decided that an easy solution to the problem of managing Taplin's ill health was to engineer his suspension, "removing him from the workplace and potentially also forcing him into an exit situation or dismissal".
Taplin resigned, and won his claim against the firm earlier this year.
Freeths confirmed to RollOnFriday that Flanagan and Chief Executive Peter Smith were retiring from the firm, but said that Freeths "had a two year succession plan in place" and that "there was a scheduled handover period to allow plenty of time for the new management team to adjust to their new responsibilities".
"Now we are seeing working life start to return to some normality, and with the management team successfully embedded in their roles, Colin has taken the decision to step down at the end of this month", it said.