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Friday, 11 April 2014

GM puts two engineers in recall probe on paid leave

I have deliberately not been posting about the GM recall affair in the US. Only so much news of what is going on over there is really of interest to British and other European readers, and we don't have Chevrolet Cobalts over here (although we do have Astras and Zafiras, built on the same platform - but presumably with different ignition switches - and soon we won't have more than a handful of Chevrolet cars anyway, which is another story altogether). That affair, though, is probably worth coming back to one day. For now, I just want to comment on the story that GM has sent two of its engineers on paid leave.

According to Just Auto, GM sent the two home after an interim report from the former US attorney who is conducting an independent investigation into the matter. The allegation is that GM knew about the problem with the switches, which can fail in use and deprive the car of braking and steering systems among other things: 13 fatalities are attributed to the problem. What GM did, or didn't do, about it is what everyone wants to try to work out. The two engineers are presumably involved in what happened back in the early 2000s: their identities have been mentioned in the media, but it adds nothing to this story to speculate on who they are.

The reason I considered this interesting enough to write up is this: if you wish to be able to deal with an employee in this way, and there are many reasons why you might so wish, you have to rely on the contract of employment. You have a duty to provide your employees with work, not just to pay them, and however generous it might seem to pay an employee for not working - in the classic case, paying them to tend their garden instead - you can only do this with their agreement, and that agreement is best obtained in advance, when they sign their contract. Most contracts of employment I have seen in recent years address this point, but there might be some 'legacy' contracts floating around, as old as if not older than a Chevrolet Cobalt, which don't have it.

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