No compensation does not equate to no case to answer
Even where it would be inequitable to award compensation to a Claimant, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that there is value in a formal finding of unfair dismissal despite there being no possibility of any monetary compensation.
The Claimant was employed as a Deputy Head teacher for 12 years. During 2009 a colleague of the Claimant’s raised allegations of misconduct and financial mismanagement by members of the senior management team, which included the Claimant.
A disciplinary investigation commenced and during the process the Claimant was permitted to be accompanied at meetings by his sister. The Claimant was invited to a disciplinary hearing and requested a postponement of the hearing due to his sister’s unavailability and in order for him to review the substantial documentation provided for the hearing. The Claimant’s request was refused, and the hearing proceeded in his absence where a decision was made to terminate his employment.
The Claimant submitted a claim for unfair dismissal at the Employment Tribunal however, the proceedings were stayed due to ongoing criminal proceedings where the Claimant pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting. There was also a High Court claim in which the adverse findings against the Claimant bound the Employment Tribunal.
The Respondent then made an application to strike out the Claimant’s claim as it believed his unfair dismissal claim had no reasonable prospects of success. The case was listed for a preliminary hearing. The Tribunal noted that it could not state that the Claimant’s entire claim had no prospects of success as the Respondent had failed to adjourn the disciplinary hearing when there would have been no prejudice to the Respondent by a short delay. However, the Tribunal also noted that there was no prospect of the Claimant receiving any financial award.
The Tribunal also considered whether it was in the interests of justice for further substantial judicial time to be spent on the claim and whether it was reasonable for the Respondent to incur further costs. In addition, the Tribunal considered the case of Nicolson Highlandwear v Nicolson where the Employment Appeal Tribunal had held that it was not open for a Claimant to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal purely for the purpose of obtaining a declaration that he was unfairly dismissed. As a result, the Employment Tribunal concluded that the claim did not have sufficient prospects and should be struck out.
The Claimant appealed and the Employment Appeal Tribunal expressly found that a finding of unfair dismissal could be of value, even if there was no possibility of any compensation/monetary remedy. As the Employment Tribunal had effectively found that there were reasonable prospects of a finding of unfair dismissal, on procedural grounds, that part of the case should be properly considered, and not struck out.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal in allowing the appeal returned the case to the Tribunal to consider the remaining procedural fairness of the Respondent’s disciplinary actions (whether they should have adjourned the disciplinary hearing).
This highlights two factors to be considered by HR practitioners:
- procedural defects in disciplinary processes can have a disproportionate effect on “fairness”; and
- low value claims of unfair dismissal can still proceed even in cases where the costs of defending those claims exceeds their monetary value.