Can an employee be dismissed over a frivolous grievance?
21 December 2021
Many employers will have experienced employees raising grievances over trivial matters, or using a grievance procedure as a means of delaying or frustrating a disciplinary procedure. Employers are, rightly, cautious about not dealing with grievances which have been raised, almost irrespective of their merits. However, as a recent case has shown, in some circumstances an employer can consider an employee’s conduct in pursuing grievances as justification for their dismissal.
In the case of Hope v British Medical Association (“the BMA”), Mr Hope was employed as a Senior Policy Adviser and had been with his employer for about 5 years. He raised various grievances against a senior manager complaining that he had been excluded from meetings which he felt he should have attended. Mr Hope wanted to discuss the grievances informally with his direct line manager. However, this was not an issue which his line manager could resolve, as the decisions as to who should attend the meetings were made by more senior managers. Mr Hope was informed of this, but refused to take the grievances to the formal stage or to withdraw them. The BMA decided that the matter could only be resolved by holding a formal grievance meeting, and this was arranged and Mr Hope was instructed to attend. It was made clear to him that this was considered to be a reasonable instruction, but he refused to agree and the meeting went ahead in his absence. The grievances were not upheld.
The BMA decided that Mr Hope’s refusal to obey a reasonable instruction and in bringing what they considered to be vexatious and frivolous grievances amounted to a disciplinary matter. They therefore held a disciplinary hearing and Mr Hope was dismissed for gross misconduct. He brought a claim of unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal found that the dismissal was fair. They concluded that Mr Hope’s conduct had been vexatious and unreasonable, that the BMA had followed a fair disciplinary process and that they had therefore behaved reasonably in dismissing Mr Hope.
Mr Hope appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which upheld the Tribunal’s decision that the BMA were entitled to dismiss Mr Hope for gross misconduct. They applied the statutory test of reasonableness set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and considered that this involved a consideration of all the circumstances. The fact that Mr Hope had not done anything in breach of contract, as in most cases of gross misconduct, did not render the dismissal unfair.
As these things tend to be, this case is very specific to its own facts, but it does give employers some ammunition to help them deal with vexatious or frivolous grievances, which in some instances can be hugely time consuming and frustrating.
If you are an employer dealing with a grievance that you are struggling to resolve then we can help. Please call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected].