Legal Updates

Employment – Disciplinary Hearing – Unfair Dismissal

In the recent case of William Hicks & Partners v Nadal (2005), it was held that an employer’s decision was outside the range of reasonable responses and as a result an employee’s dismissal was deemed unfair. Miss Nadal was an experienced personal injury solicitor and head of the department for the defendant partnership.  On 22 October 2003, Miss Nadal was suspended from work following a letter from a secretary who made a number of allegations against her. On 24 October, Miss Nadal’s doctor wrote to the partnership and said that Miss Nadal was suffering from stress and could not attend a hearing in the foreseeable future. On 27 October, Miss Nadal was notified that two partners would be conducting a disciplinary hearing on 31 October. Miss Nadal replied on 28 October and said she could not attend the hearing on the 31st. The hearing was then set for 5 November.

On 31 October, the partnership received a sick note from Miss Nadal’s doctor which said Miss Nadal was not fit to attend the 5 November hearing but he would see her again on 7 November. The hearing was then rescheduled for 6 November. The partnership indicated that they were unwilling to further extend the hearing date. Miss Nadal did not attend the hearing and was dismissed on 11 November at which point Miss Nadal commenced proceedings for unfair dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal held that the partnership’s unwillingness to reschedule a hearing that Miss Nadal was unable to attend rendered her dismissal unfair.

The partnership appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal on the grounds that the decision not to grant a further adjournment of the disciplinary hearing was a reasonable response given the situation the defendants faced.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal held that:

▪     the opportunity for an employee to put forward his/her side of a case is an essential part of a reasonable investigation;

▪     the decision not to adjourn the disciplinary hearing as requested by Miss Nadal was outside the range of reasonable responses;

▪     in awarding damages to Miss Nadal the Employment Tribunal should have considered whether or not Miss Nadal would have attended the disciplinary hearing and the strengths of the employer’s case;

▪     the Employment Tribunal did not consider these two factors and so the case would be remitted for a reassessment of damages;

▪     however, the Employment Tribunal was correct to find that the dismissal was unfair.

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© RT COOPERS, 2005. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.




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