Fri 24 Jan 2020

An investigation meeting is not always required for fair dismissal

The EAT has confirmed an investigatory meeting is not a pre-requisite for a fair dismissal.

In Sunshine Hotel Ltd t/a Palm Court Hotel v Goddard Mr Goddard was dismissed for misconduct.  For the dismissal to be fair, his employer had to establish that it believed Mr Goddard to be guilty of the misconduct, and that it had at the time of the dismissal in its mind reasonable grounds upon which to sustain that belief.  Additionally, at the time at which the employer formed those beliefs, the employer required to have carried out as much investigation into the matter as was reasonable in the circumstances of the case.

Mr Goddard had been suspended to allow for an investigation to take place but that seemed to be no more than a review of CCTV footage.  He was then invited to an investigation meeting, the letter inviting him confirming that if there was any substance to the allegations against him, Mr Goddard would then be invited to a disciplinary hearing.  In fact, the so called investigation meeting turned out to be the disciplinary hearing, with no separate investigation meeting taking place.  The Employment Judge who subsequently heard the case referred to this as a serious procedural failing which resulted in Mr Goddard not having the opportunity to provide a full explanation, having found himself in a disciplinary hearing when expecting only an investigation meeting and the dismissal was found to be unfair.

The employer interpreted the Employment Judge's decision as suggesting that the failure to hold a seperate investigatory meeting was determinative in rendering the dismissal unfair, and appealed on the basis that this was an error of law.  The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that taking the judgement as a whole it was clear that the dismissal had been found to be unfair due to an inadequate investigation and the fact Mr Goddard had not had the opportunity to properly prepare for the disciplinary hearing, thinking as he did, that it was just an investigatory meeting. In the judgement, the EAT highlighted that neither the ACAS code nor guidance set out in case law suggest that there needs to be an investigation in every case.  There was no error on the part of the Employment Judge and the appeal was dismissed. 

Employers should though check whether their own procedures require an investigatory meeting to take place.  If the procedure does require such a meeting then a failure to follow it could (but will not always) render a subsequent dismissal unfair.  

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