Biased investigation may taint fairness of dismissal

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If a conduct issue is investigated by a person with a grudge against the employee it may give grounds to find any subsequent dismissal is unfair even if the final decision is made by an independent manager. This was confirmed in the recent case of Cadent Gas Limited v Singh which involved the dismissal of an active trade union official who had long service and a previously unblemished disciplinary record following an investigation by a manager with whom he had previously clashed.


Mr Singh in his trade union role had clashed with a manager Mr Huckerby on several occasions. Following a report that Mr Singh had been one minute late arriving on a call out Mr Huckerby decided to instigate a disciplinary investigation. This was despite a delay in the allocation of the call out being partially to blame for the lateness and the fact that Mr Singh was told that no further action would be taken. Taking into account the investigation report Mr Singh was dismissed for gross misconduct.


Mr Singh successfully claimed that the dismissal was automatically unfair on the grounds it had been related to his trade union activities. Even though the manager hearing the disciplinary was not motivated by prejudice because of Mr Singh's trade union activities Mr Huckerby's involvement throughout the investigation, his frequent references to Mr Singh’s union activities and the history of animosity between them were sufficient to establish a connection with the reason for the dismissal.


The fact that Mr Huckerby had a poor relationship with Mr Singh and had some involvement in the disciplinary process might not have made the dismissal unfair. However he had played such a leading and directing role in the investigation that it had had led to Mr Singh being treated differently to the way in which other employees had been for similar conduct. That was "manipulation" of the sort that made it appropriate for the employer to be liable despite the independence of the decision maker.

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