Granit Xhaka and an employer's duty of care

Why counselling is a progressive initiative irrespective of an employee’s job

Granit Xhaka is a professional footballer. Granit is captain of the Swiss national football team and until recently he was captain of Arsenal. He probably earns more in a week than most of us earn in a year.

During a recent match against Crystal Palace mid-way through the second half he was substituted and roundly booed by a significant number of supporters as he slowly and somewhat provocatively left the pitch. His response to the booing was to mouth “f^~k off” to the supporters as he removed his shirt and headed for the tunnel.

His actions have been rightly criticised including by the club’s manager Unai Emery who has now stripped Granit of the captaincy.

But Arsenal have done something else. They have offered Granit counselling to help him deal with the supporters response, I would add that it is reported that his family have received death threats on social media.

Were Arsenal right to offer Granit counselling or is the “nanny state gone mad?”

I believe that they were absolutely right to offer counselling. It shows a considered and progressive approach to an employee’s mental health and wellbeing. Granit is an employee of Arsenal and as his employer they have a duty of care to him.

The fact that he is a professional footballer earning probably a seven figure salary is irrelevant. He was publicly harangued by several thousand people in front of a worldwide audience of millions. Who would not have found that traumatic?

Fortunately, the “old way” of thinking that believes he should “man up” and questions why he needs counselling “if you pay me £100,00 a week you can abuse me all you like!”, is now largely a thing of the past.

What else can and should Arsenal do?

I believe the club should look to remind supporters about acceptable and unacceptable forms of behaviour, much like they do with their efforts to stamp out racism. Announcements can be made in the programme, managers and players should publicly condemn such conduct and tannoy announcements made if persistent booing continues.

The fact is that irrespective of the job role, nobody goes to work to be abused. All employees deserve to be treated with dignity and respect at work – and every employer has a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to ensure that is the case.

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