Employment Law Solutions. Expert advice... more personal

Physical violence and unfair dismissal

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Arnold Clark Automotives Ltd v Spoor has upheld a finding of unfair dismissal where the Claimant had been dismissed following physical violence at work.


The Claimant worked at a Newcastle branch of Arnold Clark Automotives Ltd (“the Company”) and had 42 years’ service and an exemplary disciplinary record with the Company.

In a minor disagreement with an apprentice, the Claimant lost his temper and grabbed the apprentice by the collar.

The Company’s disciplinary procedure gave an example of gross misconduct as ‘physical violence’. The procedure also stated that gross misconduct could lead to dismissal without notice or payment in lieu of notice.

The matter was initially dealt with by the Claimant’s manager who, after meeting with both the Claimant and the apprentice, intended to issue a “letter of concern” to the Claimant in accordance with the Company’s informal procedure. The manager sent a copy of the intended letter to Human Resources with a cover note stating “Had some handbags between two guys here and we will be issuing this letter”. However, Human Resources intervened and decided that a formal process and investigation was required and suspended the Claimant.

Following a disciplinary hearing, the Claimant was dismissed without notice for gross misconduct (i.e. physical violence towards another employee) with the Company stating that it operated a “zero tolerance” policy to physical violence.

Following an unsuccessful internal appeal, the Claimant brought claims for unfair dismissal, breach of contract and failure to pay notice.


The Employment Tribunal found that found that reference to “handbags” was a local colloquialism for a minor or insignificant disagreement. The investigation undertaken by the Company was held not to be within the range of reasonable responses. No reasonable employer would have dismissed the Claimant having regard to all the circumstances and his previous exemplary disciplinary record. However, the Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant had contributed to his own dismissal by 50% given his actions.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the Company’s appeal against the finding. Although there had been physical violence there was no evidence that the Company operated a “zero tolerance” approach particularly as a manager had initially intended for the matter to be dealt with informally. Further, the Company had failed to have regard to all surrounding circumstances and the Claimant’s exemplary 42-year record.


Employers may think that any physical violence will almost certainly amount to gross misconduct and a fair reason to dismiss an employee however, this case demonstrates that a thorough investigation should be carried out and an Employer must give consideration to all of the surrounding circumstances before making any decision to dismiss.

If you would like to speak to us about dismissing an employee, please feel free to email us  or contact us on 0191 282 2880 for a no obligation chat.

This entry was posted in Law. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.