The Importance of Employers Responding to Misconduct by Employees Fairly

Thu 4th Jan 2024

Employment Tribunal highlights the importance of employers responding to misconduct by employees fairly and consistently when considering potential gross misconduct

The recent judgment in J. Richardson v West Midlands Trains Ltd [2023], emphasised the importance of employers following a fair and reasonable process, when considering issues relating to employees’ misconduct in the workplace.

The employee was accused of bullying a colleague by placing a tarantula’s shed exoskeleton and a snakeskin in their colleague’s pigeonhole at work. The colleague had indicated a dislike and squeamishness to insects and spiders, however, the employee maintained he had placed these items in the pigeonhole as a prank, and not appreciated his colleague’s feelings or understood her request to stop.

Following an investigation of the employee’s actions, they were dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct.

The employment tribunal (ET) concluded that the employer had acted unreasonably in deciding that the pranks amounted to gross misconduct under the employer’s own policies. Consequently, the dismissal was deemed unfair.

The ET also noted that the pranks didn’t involve any risk of physical harm to the colleague, and instead “they were harmless, childish pranks”.

This case demonstrates the importance of employers ensuring that they respond to incidents of misconduct consistently and proportionately. Employers should have clear bullying and harassment policies in place to ensure that staff behave appropriately. Should issues arise, they should respond with appropriate action, in line with their own policies and procedures.

Employers will need to be cautious before dismissing an employee for gross misconduct and ensure that they have fully investigated the matter, before reaching a decision. Employers need to have comprehensive policies in force and be prepared to respond to incidences of misconduct fairly and consistently. 

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