As most of you know, Jacob Mellis and Chelsea FC have parted ways following the young midfielder's smoke bomb prank at Cobham three weeks ago. Contrary to what was reported yesterday (both here and elsewhere), the termination of Mellis's deal was by mutual consent rather than a cancellation, but I'm not really sure it makes a much of a difference - Chelsea wanted Mellis gone, and now he's gone.
Whether or not getting rid of an employee for a prank that forced the mobilisation of the emergency services was the correct move is open for discussion. For my part, I think it's a pretty reasonable response. Letting off a smoke bomb at work would probably get most employees sacked, and at 21 Mellis had to know it was a pretty stupid move.
But no matter whether or not you think Chelsea's reaction to the prank was fair, it raises an unsettling question - why wasn't Ashley Cole treated in the same way? After all, the England left back shot an intern with an air rifle at Cobham last year, an accident at least comparable to what Mellis pulled in February. Is this not a double standard at work?
The answer is a little bit complicated.
I'd argue that it's not a double standard but simply a sliding scale. Mellis wasn't let go because he let off a smoke bomb - he was let go because the smoke bomb incident dropped his value to Chelsea below the 'fire me' threshold. That's how employer-employee relationships actually work. An employee provides some positive value and some negative value, and the company makes personnel decisions based on that. Some misdemeanors (e.g. being Adrian Mutu) are enough to wipe out all positive value, and some, like locker room pranks/accidents are not.
And, simply speaking, Ashley Cole had a lot more positive value to eat up than Mellis did. You're comparing a starting first teamer with many years under his belt vs. a youth player who's never made a difference at the top level and who looked to be moving on very soon anyway. Firing Cole over the air rifle thing would have probably resulted in a lengthy battle over his remaining wages to boot.
So firing Cole over intern-shooting-gate would make not much sense. Encouraging Mellis to leave after setting off a smoke bomb? That's not a double standard - it's understanding and reacting to a specific situation in an appropriate fashion.