An employment tribunal has begun in an attempt to resolve the protracted dispute between Chelsea FC and their former manager Antonio Conte, with a preliminary hearing taking place last Friday.
The dispute between the club and Conte relates to a £9m severance package, which the Italian’s legal representatives argue he is owed having being dismissed with a year still remaining on his three year contract. Conte, who won the Premier League and FA Cup during a largely successful two years at Stamford Bridge, was dismissed shortly before the start of the 2018/19 season.
An independent Premier League managers' arbitration tribunal, conducted in May 2019, had ordered Chelsea to pay Conte the £9m severance package owed to him. However, having refused to comply, it will now be up to an employment tribunal judge to settle the matter.
For their part, Chelsea state that Conte’s fractured relationship with the club’s executives and conduct toward the end of his tenure amounted to a breach of contract. In particular, one infamous episode in 2017 saw Conte explain to star striker Diego Costa via text message that he would no longer be part of his squad. Chelsea claim this act cost them considerable revenue after the striker was eventually sold in a cut-price deal to Atletico Madrid.
Meanwhile, Conte is of the position that his contractual terms entitle him to be paid in full for the remaining year of his contract, as long as he did not take up another job in the intervening 12 months. A factor that he feels was made worse by Chelsea’s decision to dismiss so close to the start of the 18/19 season.
Whilst the employment relationships of professional footballers and football managers are largely different from that of every day employees it will be interesting to see how the tribunal approach this case, especially given the previous ruling of the Premier League.
It does however bring into light the importance of contractual provisions when it comes to fixed-term employees and organisations must always exercise caution when it comes to terminating individuals before their contract is up. In order to avoid tribunal claims many organisations install clauses that give them the flexibility to end fixed-term contracts early under a number of prescribed reasons.
This case also brings up the level of conduct that is required to constitute a breach of contract and we can expect the employment tribunal to analyse whether Conte’s apparent misconduct was enough to constitute a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, which is integral to an employment relationship.