Employers who fail to conduct workplace disciplinary proceedings fairly risk serious financial and reputational consequences. In one case, a company’s handling of a bullying investigation was roundly condemned as a catalogue of ineptitude and misjudgment.
The case concerned a business development manager who was accused of bullying a subordinate. Whilst accepting that she could sometimes be abrupt, she denied that she was a bully or that she had any intention to cause distress. She was dismissed following a lengthy investigatory and disciplinary process.
After she launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled that her summary dismissal, without notice, was wrongful. The evidence was entirely consistent with her inadvertently having caused stress to the subordinate. Given the lack of any proof of malign intent on her part, her conduct did not meet the employer’s policy definition of bullying and thus did not amount to gross misconduct.
The ET made numerous criticisms of the conduct of the investigatory and disciplinary process. In rejecting her unfair dismissal claim, however, it found that the decision-maker genuinely believed that she had behaved inappropriately. The ET was just persuaded that it fell within the band of reasonable responses for the company to consider that the process was, in the circumstances, adequate.
Upholding her challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that it was one of those rare cases where an ET had reached a perverse conclusion. Given the catalogue of failings identified, there was no basis on which a reasonable ET could find that the process fell within a reasonable band. Subject to any submissions to the contrary, the EAT ruled that the unfair dismissal claim should be remitted to the same ET for reconsideration.