Controversy has surrounded British Gas (and its parent company Centrica) for its decision to use ‘fire and rehire’ to help restructure its business. Put simply, when a company wants to change the conditions of employees and uses fire and rehire, it ‘fires’ them and ‘rehires’ on new terms and conditions. Unsurprisingly these are always perceived as less favourable for the employees. For example, in the case of British Gas, a new contract would see full-time engineers being asked to work an extra three hours a week but for the same money and they would no longer receive a higher rate when required to work on weekends and public holidays (Ambrose 2021). The decision by British Gas was met with dismay by the engineers affected and many initially refused to agree to sign new contracts. The engineers went on strike, but gradually more and more signed as the prospect of losing their jobs loomed. In April this year time ran out. Though Britsh Gas/Centrica claimed success because 98% of engineers accepted the new terms, between 300 and 400 engineers were dismissed (Guardian 2021). British Gas/Centrica said it was necessary to use fire and rehire to protect the company which had lost three quarters of the energy market and seen profits halved over the last five years (Ambrose 2021). The Unite and GMB unions representing the workers said that this was nothing less than bullying, and that ‘fire and re-hire’ was spreading like a disease in workplaces around the country (GMB 2021;King 2021;Macuica 2021). There appears to be some truth in the fact that it is being used by a number of companies Munbodh 2021). Politicians too have expressed views, the deputy leader of the Labour party said that fire and rehire was tantamount to ‘picking the pockets’ of staff, and that a Labour government would legislate against it (Parker et al 2020), Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson had called it unacceptable, while a union sponsored survey appeared to show it is also unpopular with the public. The survey reported that 76% of people polled said it should be against the law and 67% would not buy from a company that used fire and rehire (Savage 2021).
At the same time, although Prime Minister Johnson appeared to disapprove, the government have NOT done anything to stop it and agreement has been expressed that firms in financial trouble must have the flexibility to offer new terms and conditions (Wall 2021). What is clear is that it is NOT illegal in the UK even if in some other countries–Spain and Ireland for example – it is (Guardian 2021), and that there is an argument that, if done well, it need not cause the kind of headline grabbing impact that has happened at British Gas (Churchill 2021).
The feeling remains however that companies that use the tactic are not fully looking beyond their balance sheets; has chief executive John O’Shea ‘..shown all the hall marks of a good “money man” : a keen eye on costs and productivity, and a determination to wrest the company’s future back from the brink of financial collapse. But his ruthless pragmatism has perhaps cloudedthe very human consequences of his actions’ ? (Guardian 2021). Certainly the views expressed in popular tabloid The Mirrorattest to the impact on workers (Wynne Jones and Qaiser 2021). And what about claims that many of the companies using fire and rehire are profitable AND have claimed money from the government during covid (Wall 2021)?
As with the other case study choices, your task is to write a report to your senior managers imagining that you work for Centrica/ British Gas. Presumably that would have had a report on the finical implications if imposing/not imposing fire and rehire, you need to spell out the ethical perspective.
Your assessment into two parts with part 1 being further split into two. Read the requirements below and attempt all three parts:
- You are now required to write a brief report to senior managers at Centrica/ British Gas. You should imagine and play the role of anemployee who has been asked towrite a report for senior managers outlining the ethical issue involved in the case. The reports you have give a good background, now you should present at report outlining the case from the perspective of business ethics.
Why should thecompany be looking at this issue from the perspective of ethics? What is the issue here do you think? Is it a lack of integrity? Transparency? Has the company exploited someone or something, or has it maybe neglected to consider the impact of its actions of a wide enough set of stakeholders?
How might this issueinfluence the public image of the company? What will be the result for the company if/when it is/was found out? (In this case it has been and you can report on the response). But, as with all these cases, we want you to tackle the ethics of the original decision. That is, when Centrica/ British Gas decided that fire and rehire was the best way to address the restructuring it felt it needed to do.
What alternatives ways are there to think about a business’ role in society? What does the issue seem to indicate that the business is focussed on? Is it for example shareholder value? Or the interests of a range of stakeholders? (Here the temptation is to say that the impact on shareholders for example is that the share price goes down when the issue is report. BUT – we want you to think about what the company had in mind when it chose this path and must have assumed it would not get caught!)
Who/what are the stakeholders impacted in the scenario you are reporting on and how are they impacted on? Again- think about who gained/lost WHEN the decision was made to go use fire and rehire not when reports started to criticise the company.
Where are there examples of business that act responsibly and ones that do not? You should illustrate this by including research you can find,e.g where is there research that shows good choices benefit companies and bad choices have a negative impact?We are looking for academic research first and foremost, examples of companies’ actions are OK but not without research showing – for example – that people want to work for companies that uphold values.
Finally you should conclude with some recommendations for what the company should do -a tip here is to pay particular note to the video guidance where concluding remarks for this section are covered.This part of your assessment should be written as a report, but should be referenced in the normal academic way using Harvard citations and referencing.
- For this part you should again use the case study – but this time choose TWO ethical theories (using ones we have looked at in class) and demonstrate that you can apply these to the case to show how your chosen theories lead you to a view on the ethics of the case. For example, if you applied utilitarian thinking to the idea of cutting quality to boost profit what would you need to consider and how might the issue look from that perspective? Or, what if you apply Kant’s thinking here? NOTE – you do NOT have to use ‘opposing’ ideas, we are interested most in how you use theory, if, when you apply two theories they seem to give the same answer that is fine, if they seem to give different outcomes that is fine too. This section is written in a more academic style than the report.
Part 2 is NOT related to the case study. This section requires you to discuss what makes an ethical leader and how you would, as an ethical manager, manage your business and/or others to a high ethical standard.
You will need to think about personal ethics, about the conditions that bring about unethical organisations and practices, about organisational values and methods of compliance. This part can be written in a more reflective style, where the first person can be used.
The word limit for this assessment is 3,000 words. This does NOT include any title page or bibliography.
You are allowed 10% of the word count (ie submissions can be up to 3,300 words_, submissions exceeding this will be subject to a penalty.
How the word count is used across the submission is up to you. A suggestion would be
- 1200 words
- 1000 words
Approx. 800 words
The exact proportions will vary and this is part of your challenge to write informatively and concisely across the required tasks.
How will we support you with your assessment?
- Assessment briefing videos
- Briefing material and guides in addition to the assessment brief (Please make sure that you read these)
- Dedicated seminar session on your formative assessment
- The chance to submit a formative outline of your ideas for feedback
- Prompt feedback session on your formative assessment and tutorial session to support the development of your summative assessment.
- Tutorial session to support the completion of your summative assessment in the final week of the semester.
How will your work be assessed?
Your work will be assessed by a subject expert who will use the marking grid provided in this assessment brief. When you access your marked work it is important that you reflect on the feedback so that you can use it to improve future assignments.
You MUST use the Harvard System. The Harvard system is very easy to use once you become familiar with it.
The Business School requires a digital version of all assignment submissions. These must be submitted via Turnitin on the module’s Moodle site. They must be submitted as a Word file (not as a pdf) and must not include scanned in text or text boxes. They must be submitted by 2pm on the given date. For further general details on coursework preparation refer to the online information
Mitigating circumstances/what to do if you cannot submit a piece of work or attend your presentation
The University Mitigating Circumstances Policy can be found on the University website
Marking and feedback process
Between you handing in your work and then receiving your feedback and marks within 20 days, there are a number of quality assurance processes that we go through to ensure that students receive marks which reflects their work. A brief summary is provided below.
- Step One – The module and marking team meet to agree standards, expectations and how feedback will be provided.
- Step Two – A subject expert will mark your work using the criteria provided in the assessment brief.
- Step Three – A moderation meeting takes place where all members of the teaching and marking team will review the marking of others to confirm whether they agree with the mark and feedback.
- Step Four – Work at Levels 5 and 6 then goes to an external examiner who will review a sample of work to confirm that the marking between different staff is consistent and fair.
Step Five – Your mark and feedback is processed by the Office and made available to you.