Employer Pays Heavily for Over-Hasty Disciplinary Process

Workplace disciplinary proceedings are never pleasant and it is understandable that employers may wish to deal with them as swiftly as possible. However, in one case, an engineering company paid heavily for its impatience in refusing to adjourn a hearing so that a worker could be accompanied by a trade union official.

The woman was accused of sending a series of unprofessional and abusive emails to a close friend who worked for a business with which the company traded. She criticised colleagues in the emails, which were said to have risked bringing the company into disrepute and to be in breach of its bullying and harassment policy. She was also said to have attempted to cover up her wrongdoing by deleting some of the offending emails.

A disciplinary hearing had already been postponed for three weeks, due to the worker’s annual leave and ill health, when she requested a further two-week adjournment so that the union official could be with her. That request was refused, however, and she was summarily dismissed after the hearing went ahead in her absence.

In upholding the woman’s unfair dismissal claim, an Employment tribunal (ET) found that no reasonable employer would have refused the short adjournment requested by a worker who had served the company for 21 years with an otherwise unblemished record. The company was ordered to pay her a basic award of £11,554 and a compensatory award of £10,702.

In dismissing the company’s challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected arguments that the ET had substituted its own view for that of a reasonable employer. the ET was entitled to find on the evidence that the company had been too impatient and hasty. The worker’s basic and compensatory awards had been appropriately reduced – respectively by 30 per cent and 15 per cent – to take account of her own contribution to her dismissal and the chance that she would have been dismissed in any event had a fair procedure been adopted.

Our Trainee Legal Executive, Lucy Watson, comments “Employer’s have a duty to conduct disciplinary proceedings within a reasonable time frame and without undue delay, however they should be cautious to not afford employees the opportunity to delay proceedings in order for them to be accompanied by a trade union representative. In this particular case, the trade union representative was not available for the hearing date set by the employer, the employer refused the employees request for an adjournment and held the hearing in her absence and dismissed her. the employee was successful in bringing an unfair dismissal claim.”

This case highlights the need for employer’s to balance their obligations to conduct disciplinary’s without delay and acting reasonably.

Talon Engineering Limited v Smith. Case Number: UKEAT/0236/17/BA

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