10 January 2012 #Employment
Employers can often find themselves in a difficult predicament when colleagues fall out and their unprofessional behaviour affects the business. This was the situation the employer faced in the case of Mealing v Edmonds t/a The Gatehouse Diner.
The Claimant worked in a confined space in small diner, with a small number of colleagues. One of these colleagues, Mrs Morris was a good friend of the Claimant until they had an argument and refused to speak to each other. This caused a negative working environment.
The businesses owners spoke to the two employees and asked them to maintain a professional working relationship regardless of their personal issues. There was initially some improvement, but the Claimant soon stopped speaking to Mrs Morris once more.
In early 2011 the diner was sold. Mrs Morris informed the new owner of the difficult working relationship and he invited them both to disciplinary meetings to discuss the issue. The Claimant stated that she would think about speaking to Mrs Morris, whilst Mrs Morris said she would be willing to speak to the Claimant.
The new owners continued to observe the working relationship, and noted that the Claimant’s attitude did not improve. She was therefore invited to a second disciplinary meeting. Mrs Morris was not subject to a second meeting as her attitude towards the Claimant had improved.
It subsequently emerged that, after the first disciplinary meetings, the Claimant sent Mrs Morris a number of nasty text messages, three of which were presented as evidence during the hearing, which said:
Mrs Morris showed the text messages to her employer and the Claimant was called to a meeting and dismissed.
The Employment Tribuanl found that Respondent had a potentially fair reason for dismissing the Claimant, namely conduct, and that the Respondent had a genuine belief, based on reasonable grounds, after a reasonable investigation, that the Claimant had committed the alleged misconduct. They found the dismissal to be within the band of reasonable responses as the working environment "required goodwill and cooperation between those who worked there". They rejected the Claimant’s arguments on disparity of treatment as they found that Mrs Morris had modified her behaviour whilst the Claimant had not.
The Tribunal did however find that the disciplinary procedure was flawed, because the Claimant was not notified in writing of the outcomes of the disciplinary meetings she had attended, she was given no notice of her dismissal meeting, and not given any right of appeal. This led to the dismissal being found unfair.
Despite the finding of unfair dismissal, the Tribunal chose to award the Claimant no compensation as they found she would have continued to behave inappropriately towards Mrs Morris and so would have been fairly dismissed had the correct procedures been followed.