Company ‘entitled to treat misbehaving employees differently’

A company that sacked one employee involved in a fracas but only gave his opponent a written warning was entitled to treat them differently, according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.


The case involved two employees who attended a corporate social event and were told that they would need to maintain a good standard of behaviour.


However, they began drinking and their behaviour deteriorated as the evening wore on. The two initially exchanged some light banter, but this soon escalated resulting in one of them punching the other in the face.


The employee who was punched later responded by sending text messages to his attacker, threatening to “rip your f….. head off”. He did not carry out the threat.


The company held disciplinary proceedings against both. The employee who threw the punch was dismissed but the one who merely made a threat was given a final written warning.


The Employment Tribunal held that there had been inconsistency in the way the two men were treated and the dismissal of the employee who threw the punch was therefore unfair.


That decision has now been overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal. It held that the law recognised that there may be a range of reasonable ways in which an employer may react to circumstances that give rise to dismissal. 


The question was whether the employer’s treatment of the case fell within the band of reasonable responses. It would be an error of law for a tribunal to substitute its own view for that of the employer. 


In this case, it was not unreasonable for the employer to conclude that an actual punch in the face was different to a mere threat that was never carried out.


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