In a recent case, Celebi v Scolarest Compass Group, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) illustrated how important it was for employers undertaking disciplinary investigations and hearings to make it clear to the employee exactly what they are being accused of.
In this case Mrs Celebi was employed as a chef manager at a college. Customers paid money for the food they purchased and the money was then paid over to the college. Mrs Celebi collected £3,400 in cash. She completed the paperwork indicating that this money had been placed in a bag and given to a courier to deliver to the bank. However the bank later reported that it had received only £400. As a result Mrs Celebi was suspended by her employer.
The letter advising her of her suspension and the subsequent investigation described the issue as a “serious allegations: loss of £3,000 cash banking/inaccuracy in banking”. A subsequent letter invited her to a disciplinary hearing to consider 3 allegations: 1) incorrect reporting of stock figures; 2) failing to follow financial procedures; and 3) discrepancies in banking.
Following the disciplinary hearing Mrs Celebi was dismissed and the 3 reasons set out above were given to her as reasons for her dismissal.
Mrs Celebi bought a claim of unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal rejected her claim and she appealed to the EAT. Her case was then remitted for a re-hearing to a different Tribunal. The second Tribunal concluded the dismissal was a fair one, and Mrs Celebi again appealed to the EAT – where she was successful.
The EAT held that the lack of precision in the allegations against Mrs Celebi meant that the dismissal was unfair.
The case has been remitted to the Employment Tribunal to assess the level of compensation and, in particular, whether there should be any reductions for contributory fault or on grounds that even if the allegations had been properly set out she would have been dismissed in any event (the Polkey argument).
Whatever the eventual outcome, the message is clear. In order for a dismissal to be fair, the employee needs to know the allegations which they are facing. Here the allegations were too vague and did not make it clear that what Mrs Celebi was really being accused of was theft. It is always worth getting advice on these types of situations – as this case illustrates, sloppy drafting led to a claim of unfair dismissal when a little time spent drafting the letters properly would almost certainly have led to a finding of fair dismissal and the saving of considerable management time and legal costs.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team 01243 836840 or [email protected]