Case Update: Employer Justified Confirming Dismissal Without Prior Meeting

In the case of Hawkes v Ausin Group (UK) Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that the failure of the Respondent to hold a meeting with the Claimant before his dismissal, did not render the dismissal unfair.  

The Claimant was a volunteer reservist with the Royal Marines and was employed by the Respondent as a Business Development Manager. When the Claimant was interviewed for the position with the Respondent, he advised that he would be required to take 28 days’ training per year with the Marines and that he would therefore need an additional week’s unpaid holiday in order to fulfil his training requirements.

In June 2016, the Claimant registered for a voluntary 7 week training exercise. The Claimant did not inform the Respondent that the exercise was not mandatory. The Respondent made some enquiries as to its obligations when reservists are called for active service and spoke to the Claimant’s training officer, who explained that the Claimant was under no obligation to attend.   

The Claimant was invited to a meeting on the 5th August where he was summarily dismissed. The Claimant was informed that the Respondent had not realised the extent of the Claimant’s commitment to the Marines and that it could not accommodate a 7 week absence. The Respondent further stated that it would not have approved 7 weeks continuous leave if it was aware that the training exercise was voluntary.

The Claimant issued a claim at the Employment Tribunal (“ET”) for unfair dismissal, but the ET found in favour of the Respondent. It held that the Claimant’s dismissal was fair as he was going to be absent for 7 weeks at a crucial time for the business and the Respondent could not sustain such an absence.

The ET further held that the failure to hold a meeting before the decision to dismiss was made and the failure to give the Claimant notice of the meeting on the 5th August did not render the dismissal unfair. In reaching this conclusion, it was relevant that the Claimant had already made the decision to undertake the training exercise, as it was difficult to envisage what a meeting would have achieved. There was no evidence before the ET to suggest that the Claimant would not have attended the training exercise if he had been warned of the potential for dismissal.

The Claimant appealed but the EAT upheld the ET’s ruling. The EAT made a distinction between this case and a misconduct case where it would usually be considered necessary to hold a meeting in order to consider the employee’s explanations for their conduct.

The outcome of this case is interesting because it makes it clear that there are circumstances (albeit very limited ones) in which it may be appropriate to dismiss without first holding a meeting. Having said that, it is important to stress that this case is very fact specific and that in the vast majority of cases it will be necessary to conduct a meeting in order to establish that a fair dismissal process has been followed. 

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