Unfair Dismissal: Withholding Evidence From A Disciplinary Panel

In the case of Hargreaves v Manchester Grammar, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that the failure of the employer to disclose evidence in favour of the employee to a disciplinary panel did not render the dismissal unfair.

The Claimant was employed by the Respondent as a teacher and had an unblemished career, until it was alleged that during an incident where a number of pupils were pushing each other, the Claimant grabbed a pupil, shoved him against the wall and then pushed two forefingers against his throat.

As part of the Respondent’s investigation into the complaint, the Respondent interviewed one member of staff and three pupils. One of the pupils witnessed the incident and gave an account that largely corroborated that of the pupil who made the allegation. However, the member of staff and the two other pupils who were other potential witnesses each said they did not see anything happen.

A disciplinary hearing took place where it was concluded that on the balance of probabilities, the allegation against the Claimant was proven and he was summarily dismissed.

As a result of this, the Claimant issued a claim of unfair dismissal. In particular, the Claimant took issue with the fact that the disciplinary panel had not been informed of the interviews with those who had seen nothing happen.

The Employment Tribunal (“ET”) held that the Respondent had not acted unreasonably in deciding not to inform the disciplinary panel about the interviews, and subsequently the dismissal was deemed to be fair. The ET stated that just because the three individuals interviewed had not seen anything, it did not follow that the incident did not happen.

The Claimant appealed to the EAT, however the EAT upheld the ET’s ruling.

The EAT noted the Respondent’s obligation to ensure that the disciplinary panel was not provided with a potentially incomplete or misleading picture. However, it was held that despite this, the fact remained that the three individuals did not see the incident take place. The member of staff had been in a different place at the time of the incident, and the two pupils had been engaged in other aspects of the overall incident, and therefore they would not have necessarily witnessed the allegation. 

The EAT held that the ET had been entitled to conclude that the statements from the three individuals were immaterial and could not assist the Claimant or the disciplinary panel.

Although in this fact-specific case it was held that the Respondent had not acted unreasonably in not disclosing the interviews, employers should always ensure that they comply with their obligation to carry out a fair investigation during every disciplinary matter.

Where an employee is dismissed for misconduct, in the event of a claim of unfair dismissal the ET will need to consider whether the dismissal was fair in all the circumstances.  The employer will need to show that it had a reasonable belief, following a reasonable investigation, that the employee was guilty of the misconduct alleged and that dismissal was a reasonable sanction in all the circumstances.

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