Most employers will be aware that in order not to fall foul of unfair dismissal law they should investigate all disciplinary allegations properly before proceeding to dismiss. However a recent case has considered whether a separate investigation meeting is a right in itself.
The facts of the case involved a hotel night porter who was dismissed after being found asleep while on duty. The employer’s investigation consisted of reviewing CCTV footage, and having done so it proceeded to invite the employee to what it called an investigation meeting. Except it wasn’t really, and the employee was dismissed at that meeting.
Adjudging the employee’s claim of unfair dismissal, the Employment Tribunal was critical of the fact the employer failed to hold separate investigation meetings and disciplinary hearings. It viewed that as a serious procedural failure which rendered the dismissal unfair.
However the Appeal Tribunal did not agree. In its opinion, there was no standalone requirement for there to be a separate investigation meeting. But, said the Appeal Tribunal, the Employment Tribunal hadn’t found that that procedural failure was the only reason for finding the dismissal unfair. The Employment Tribunal had correctly concluded that on the facts of the case there had been a lack of proper investigation overall and a lack of opportunity to prepare for a disciplinary hearing which rendered the dismissal procedurally unfair.
This case is a useful reminder that for the purposes of unfair dismissal law, an employer should carry out as much investigation into the matter as is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. Some cases will be reasonably cut and dried, requiring a relatively basic investigation; more complex cases will require a deeper investigation. Either way however, there is no absolute requirement to hold a separate investigation meeting with the accused employee. Though do check your employee handbook in case it says otherwise!
If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Alan Sutherland.