A key element in any fair dismissal of an employee with over 2 years’ service is that the employer must follow a fair procedure and conduct a reasonable investigation into any allegations, especially where misconduct is alleged Such an investigation includes gathering all relevant evidence that it is reasonable to investigate. The investigation does not have to be perfect, but within a band of reasonable investigations that another employer could have undertaken in the circumstances. The extent and depth of the investigation also clearly depends upon the seriousness of the matters being investigated.
In the case below the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) supported an employer when it failed to take some evidence from potential witnesses. It concluded that the employer was reasonable in excluding such evidence, under circumstances where the excluded evidence could not have really changed the employer’s view.
In Hargreaves v Manchester Grammar, Mr Hargreaves was a teacher with an unblemished record until it was alleged that he had grabbed a pupil, pushing him against the wall and putting his fingers to the pupil's throat. He was dismissed. The tribunal found the dismissal fair. Mr Hargreaves appealed to the EAT, contending the employer's investigation was inadequate, given the career-changing impact of the allegation. Also, the employer had failed to disclose to the disciplinary panel evidence from potential witnesses who had said they had seen nothing.
The EAT dismissed the appeal. The tribunal had correctly directed itself as to the higher standard of investigation that might be expected, given the very serious nature of the allegation. It was within the band of reasonable responses to decide not to put forward to Mr Hargreaves and the disciplinary panel details about interviews with those who had seen nothing. It did not follow that, because those individuals had seen nothing, nothing had happened. The tribunal permissibly concluded the employer had reasonably formed the view that the excluded evidence was immaterial and could not assist.
The tribunal was entitled to conclude the employer had conducted a fair investigation and that the dismissal was not unfair.
The above case shows there is some degree of latitude for employers in such matters however employers should generally be careful to investigate with all potentially relevant witnesses and that remains the safest option. Employers must remember that, in any investigation, they are looking for all the evidence (not only evidence that supports the charges against the employee).
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