Dismissing an employee for misconduct is very unlikely to be viewed as fair if there has been no proper investigation and no consideration of either mitigation or the possibility of a lesser sanction. An Employment Tribunal (ET) made that point in the case of a veteran music teacher who was sacked for refusing to attend a staff meeting.
The teacher, who had worked at the relevant school for 24 years, was told by her boss that attendance at the meeting was not optional. When she informed him that she was unable to be present, he responded with a two-word email: ‘resignation accepted’. When she responded that she had not resigned, she was told that she would not be required to attend the school any further.
In ruling on her case, the ET noted that the reason for her non-attendance was that the meeting clashed with a family gathering at which the care and treatment of her 90-year-old mother, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, was to be discussed. However, she did not advise her boss of the importance of the family engagement. He genuinely believed that, in refusing to attend the meeting, she had committed an act of gross misconduct in failing to obey a reasonable instruction.
Upholding her unfair dismissal claim, however, the ET found that her boss made up his mind to dismiss her without considering her mitigation or ascertaining the reason for her non-attendance. A reasonable investigation was paramount, but none was conducted. She was afforded no appeal against the decision, she was given no opportunity to present her version of events and a lesser sanction, such as a final written warning, was not considered.
The meeting was called at short notice on a Monday, which was her day off, and she had finished work for the term. The instruction that she attend the meeting was thus not a reasonable one. Her refusal to comply did not amount to gross misconduct and her dismissal did not, in any event, fall within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer.
Her conduct was not culpable or blameworthy and there was zero chance that she could have been fairly dismissed. Her wrongful dismissal claim was also upheld in that she was not given the 12 weeks’ notice of dismissal required by her contract. If not agreed, the amount of her compensation would be assessed at a further hearing.