An award of compensation might be thought to follow a finding of unfair dismissal as surely as night follows day. However, as a case concerning a care worker accused of stealing money from a vulnerable client showed, that is not always the case.
The worker had, on three occasions, used ATMs to withdraw a total of £800 from the client’s bank account. She was adamant that she had been told to do so by the client, to whom she had handed over the money. She was investigated by the police but was not prosecuted. Following a disciplinary hearing, however, her employer dismissed her on grounds of gross misconduct.
In subsequently upholding her unfair dismissal complaint, an Employment Tribunal (ET) identified a number of procedural failings in the disciplinary process. Amongst other things, there was no adequate investigation of her alleged wrongdoing. She was deprived of a fair opportunity to put her case in that the disciplinary hearing, rather than being adjourned as it should have been, was held in her absence.
In refusing to award her any compensation, however, the ET found that the employer had reasonable grounds for concluding, on the balance of probabilities, that she had indeed committed theft. Even had the disciplinary process been entirely fair, the ET ruled that her dismissal would have been inevitable.
Rejecting her challenge to that outcome, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) acknowledged that it was unusual for a finding of unfair dismissal to result in no award of compensation. However, the ET had approached the evidence with common sense and was entitled to reach the conclusion it did.
The EAT considered whether she might have kept her job if she had been given the opportunity to put forward her mitigation. A single mother of three children, she had an otherwise clean, 10-year service record and her dismissal was likely to mark the end of her professional career. However, the EAT was satisfied that those matters would have made no difference to the outcome. The ET’s decision to reduce her compensation to zero was really unassailable.