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Can an employee be dismissed for various acts of misconduct without previous warnings?


When considering if a dismissal has been unfair, an Employment Tribunal will assess a number of factors including whether the employer acted reasonably in dismissing the employee. When considering this the Tribunal will decide whether the employer’s decision fell within the range of reasonable responses that a reasonable employer in those circumstances might have adopted. The recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case of Ham v The Governing Body of Beardwood Humanities College, held that the decision to dismiss for a series of acts of misconduct did fall within the band of reasonable responses.

The Facts

The claimant was employed for a period of 17 years before she was dismissed for various acts of misconduct, none of which, in isolation, amounted to an act of gross misconduct. The Tribunal found that her dismissal was unfair and the employer appealed. The EAT directed that the question for the Tribunal was not whether the allegations constituted gross misconduct, but whether the conduct in its totality amounted to a sufficient reason for dismissal. The hearing was remitted to the same Tribunal and they concluded that the college’s decision to dismiss was within the band of reasonable responses meaning the dismissal was fair.

What does it mean in practice?

Whilst there may be circumstances in which a number of allegations regarding an employee’s misconduct may amount to a sufficient reason for dismissal, it could be a risky approach to dismiss someone for a series of minor acts of misconduct without first issuing warnings.  It is also important to always decide each case on its facts. Employers should ensure they regularly follow their disciplinary procedures and seek legal advice if unsure whether they can safely and fairly dismiss an employee for a series of acts of misconduct.


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