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Disciplinary procedures that skip an investigation hearing

Gateley Legal

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Issue

In order to fairly dismiss an employee the Employment Rights Act 1996 requires that the employer carries out as much investigation into the matter as was reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. In the case of Sunshine Hotel Ltd trading as Palm Court Hotel v Mr R Goddard the question was whether the employer had done that when it had failed to hold a separate investigation meeting prior to the meeting at which the employee was dismissed.

Facts

Mr Goddard had been reported as sleeping on duty in the hotel. He was suspended. The manager then carried out an investigation which consisted of viewing the CCTV footage with one of the witnesses. A letter was then sent to Mr Goddard inviting him to attend an investigation – it stated that that, if there was any substance to the allegations there would be a disciplinary hearing. In fact the meeting was treated as the disciplinary hearing and a decision was made to dismiss Mr Goddard.  

Decision

It was held that the dismissal was unfair as there had been serious procedural failings. Whilst there was no legal requirement that an employer hold an investigation meeting before holding a disciplinary meeting an employer was required to act 'reasonably'. It was not reasonable to surprise the employee by making a decision at the end of this meeting and in failing to provide him with a proper opportunity to know the case in advance of the hearing so as to enable him to fully answer the allegations.

Action

The decision confirms that an investigation meeting is not compulsory in every case. However an employer may not be acting in the “band of reasonable responses” by proceeding direct to a disciplinary hearing. It will be important to consider whether the employee has been made fully aware of the allegations and what the possible consequences might be. In any event most employers will have a disciplinary policy requiring an investigation meeting take place before any disciplinary hearing 

Key takeaway point

Make sure the disciplinary process is fair when looked at as a whole always ensuring that any policy is followed and that steps are taken so that the employee fully knows the allegations that need to be answered in advance of any final hearing.  
 

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