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Investigations and Warnings

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Beattie v Condorrat War Memorial and Social Club & Others has considered whether a final written warning was valid in the absence of a full investigation.

Background

The Claimant was a Bar Steward at Condorrat War Memorial and Social Club (“the Club”). She was issued with a final written warning when she could not explain why 26 bottles of alcohol were found to be missing following a stock take that she was responsible for.

The only investigation undertaken into the loss of stock had been by the Claimant herself. There was no separate investigation carried out by the Club into the Claimant’s culpability.

The Claimant appealed the final written warning but, at the same time, accepted “part responsibility” and offered to pay the Club for the missing alcohol. The appeal was unsuccessful and she was informed that the final written warning would remain on her record for 12 months.

While the final written warning was still live, the Claimant was asked to sell tickets for a function at the Club. She refused to do so saying that she was worried what would happen to her if the money collected for the tickets went missing. She was suspended while an investigation was carried out and subsequently dismissed without a disciplinary hearing.

The Claimant submitted a claim of unfair dismissal, challenging the validity of the earlier final written warning due to the lack of investigation.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal found that the Claimant had been unfairly dismissed due to lack of procedure but reduced her compensation to nil on the basis that, had a fair procedure been followed, there was a 100% chance that she would have been dismissed in any event (as the final written warning was live at the time of the second act of misconduct).

The Tribunal considered that although there was no investigation into the Claimant’s culpability of the missing stock, the final written warning could not be said to be inappropriate as the Claimant had admitted in her appeal that she was “partly responsible”.

The Claimant appealed the decision arguing that the final written warning was not valid and therefore the decision to reduce compensation should be overturned.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal. It held that the Tribunal had taken the correct approach when considering if there was a prima facie case for issuing the final written warning. It reasonably concluded, based on the evidence, that the final written warning had not been inappropriate and therefore the reduction to compensation was appropriate.

Comment

Reasonable investigation is a key part of the test of fairness in misconduct dismissals. The degree of investigation will depend on the circumstances but as a general rule, the more serious the allegations, the more in-depth the investigation should be.

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