Hello and welcome back to the case of the week. Last week we looked at part-time working and less-favourable treatment, this week we are looking at unfair dismissal and disciplinary investigations.
Most HR Practitioners will know that during any disciplinary process resulting with dismissal, the employer must form a reasonable opinion to dismiss following a reasonable investigation for the dismissal to be fair. A reasonable investigation usually includes viewing the relevant evidence and interviewing relevant witnesses.
Therefore, the question this week is:
If an employer withholds evidence from a disciplinary panel, does that make any dismissal unfair?
Mr. Hargreaves, the Claimant, was a teacher for Manchester Grammar School, the Respondent. The Claimant had over ten years’ service and an unblemished service record. The Claimant was then accused of pushing a pupil against a wall and holding his fingers to their throat.
The Respondent investigated and interviewed several witnesses. Three of these witnesses said they had not seen anything untoward. However, these witnesses did not have a direct view of the area where the incident had taken place. The Respondent did not disclose these witness interviews to the Claimant or the disciplinary panel.
The Claimant was dismissed and initiated ET proceedings. The ET dismissed the claim, finding the Claimant had been fairly dismissed. The Claimant appealed, he argued the investigation was unreasonable because of the Respondent’s failure to disclose the witness interviews. He also stated that the Respondent should have been more thorough given the career-ending implications of such a dismissal.
The EAT rejected the appeal. It held that the Respondent had done a reasonable investigation which was appropriate given the severity of the allegation against the Claimant. It added that given the witnesses did not have a direct view of the incident it was reasonable for the Respondent to find these interviews were inconsequential.
The takeaway point:
In this case, withholding evidence was found to be immaterial to the disciplinary and thus the dismissal was fair. However, if an employer withheld relevant information this would make the dismissal unfair.
It is also worth noting that whilst it was held that the evidence withheld was immaterial, the Respondent could have saved a lot of time, money and hassle by disclosing it first time round. As it was immaterial, the evidence would not have impacted the decision to dismiss and that dismissal would not have left the Claimant so aggrieved that he brought a claim.
Often it is the manner in which disciplinaries are carried out as well as the final decision that impacts the likelihood the dismissed employee will bring a claim. Being transparent and clear is less likely to leave the employee feeling unfairly treated. This, in turn, results in fewer claims being made and a better reputation for the employer amongst former employees.