The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“the EAT”) has recently ruled in the case of Sunshine Hotel Ltd t/a Palm Court Hotel v Mr Goddard that an investigation hearing does not have to be conducted in disciplinary proceedings as long as the employer can show that a fair investigation has been carried out. The employee should also be given the opportunity to prepare for the disciplinary hearing.
Mr Goddard was dismissed from the Palm Court Hotel (“the Respondent”) for conduct reasons and he brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal (“the ET”) for unfair dismissal. The Judge in the ET found that Mr Goddard had been unfairly dismissed due to the Respondent not carrying out a full investigation into the alleged misconduct. All the Respondent did was sit down and view the CCTV footage of it. It then sent a letter to Mr Goddard inviting him to an investigation hearing but this hearing turned out to be the disciplinary hearing. The Judge stated that due to this, there had been a serious procedural failing because there was no investigation hearing. The Claimant was therefore never given the opportunity of providing a full explanation before any disciplinary hearing which according to the Judge was a basic employment right, just as it is a basic right that an employee knows the case that they are facing and can prepare for a disciplinary hearing.
The Respondent appealed the ET’s decision to the EAT making particular criticism at the phrase that it is a basic employment right because this suggested that there should always be both an investigation hearing and a disciplinary hearing.
In the EAT, the Honourable Mr Justice Griffiths referred to the ACAS Code at paragraph 5 which states that it it is important to carry out necessary investigations of potential disciplinary matters…..in some cases this will require the holding of an investigatory meeting….In others, the investigatory stage will be the collation of evidence by the employer for use at any disciplinary hearing. He also referred to section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which does not state that it is a basic employment right for an investigation hearing to be conducted in every case.
However, it was another element of the Respondent’s disciplinary process that was its downfall and caused the appeal to be dismissed. When he was invited to the hearing, Mr Goddard was surprised that a final decision was going to be made at the end of the hearing, as he had not been given the opportunity prior to the hearing to know the full case against him and, ultimately, prepare for it. This was not as a result of an investigation hearing not taking place, or one being a requirement to take place, but rather because he had not been given ample opportunity to prepare to meet the allegation effectively at the disciplinary hearing which therefore rendered the dismissal unfair.
This case is useful for employers conducting disciplinary proceedings as it confirms that an investigation hearing is not a legal requirement for the proceedings (unless this is a requirement in the employer’s own disciplinary policy!). It also reminds employers of the importance of providing individuals with the evidence of the case against them in a reasonable timeframe so that the individual can prepare and defend the allegations against them.
By Emily Calfe
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