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Employment

Does the experience and training of a disciplinary officer matter? Yes it does.

In Thomas v Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust the EAT held that a dismissal was procedurally unfair due to the fact that the chair of the disciplinary panel had no experience or training in conducting disciplinary hearings. The EAT found that this lack of experience led to the disciplinary panel misapplying the disciplinary procedure making the dismissal also substantively unfair.


Background

The employee was a consultant neonatologist and was summarily dismissed for bullying colleagues. She brought a claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, alleging that the employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments in respect of her dyslexia. The employment tribunal held that the dismissal had been unfair, but dismissed the reasonable adjustments claim on the facts. The EAT, dismissing the appeal and cross-appeal from the finding on unfair dismissal, held, among other things, that the tribunal had not erred in holding that the dismissal was outside the range of reasonable responses. Further, it was unreasonable to assign a person to conduct and decide the outcome of the Claimant’s disciplinary hearing who, although of the right level, did not appear to have any training or experience in conducting hearings. The EAT found that this lack of experience led to the disciplinary panel misapplying the disciplinary procedure making the dismissal procedurally and substantively unfair.


Implications

Not all businesses are large enough to have a choice of disciplinary officers; however this case is a reminder of the necessity to appoint your disciplinary officers with care. When dismissing an employee for misconduct it is vital that a fair procedure is followed to avoid a finding of unfair dismissal by a tribunal. Whilst the inexperience of a disciplining officer in itself will not render an otherwise fair dismissal unfair, if the chair fails to apply the employer’s disciplinary policy, it may do so. When choosing a disciplinary officer it is also worth considering how they might deal with the pressure of being questioned about their decisions at tribunal. The most effective disciplinary officers are those who are clear about the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and also internal disciplinary procedure.

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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