Workplace disciplinary proceedings must be thorough, fair and impartial and a failure to meet those standards can be costly, both in reputational and financial terms. In a case on point, an engineer won almost £70,000 in compensation after the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed with the finding of an Employment Tribunal (ET) that the internal appeal that culminated in his dismissal was a charade (Aquatronic Group Management Limited v Mace).
The man, aged in his 50s, had worked for the same company for 27 years, rising from the shop floor to become a director and shareholder. He faced disciplinary action after an incident in which he was aggressive and abusive to a more junior colleague who in his view had been insubordinate.
He conceded that his behaviour had been inappropriate, but did not accept that it amounted to bullying. He explained that he was suffering from depression and was starting a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. He said that he had learnt from the incident and that there would be no repetition. He was, however, summarily dismissed for gross misconduct following a series of disciplinary hearings. His appeal against that decision was subsequently rejected.
In upholding his unfair and wrongful dismissal complaints, the ET ferociously criticised the appeal hearing, which had only lasted 14 minutes, describing it as a very cursory affair and a rubber-stamping exercise. Given the length of his loyal and unblemished service to the company, dismissal did not fall within the range of reasonable responses open to the employer.
In ruling on the company's challenge to that decision, the EAT accepted that, in referring to the incident as not particularly serious and apparently commonplace, the ET had come close to impermissibly substituting its own view of what had happened for that of the employer.
In dismissing the appeal, however, the EAT found that the fundamental and profound defects in the disciplinary process were enough to render the dismissal unfair. On the basis that the incident had been blown out of all proportion, the ET's refusal to make a deduction from the man's award in respect of contributory fault was not perverse. His compensation award totalled £68,254.