18 January 2013 #Employment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that where serious allegations are made against an employee, the employer should ensure that it undertakes a sufficient investigation before dismissing (Stuart –v- London City Airport (UKEAT/0273/12)).
Mr Stuart had been dismissed from his job as a Ground Services Agent with London City Airport (LCA) because of allegations of dishonest conduct relating to him leaving a duty free shop without paying for the goods. However, the facts were not that clear cut. His version of events was that he had gone to buy some goods and while queuing to pay had been called away by a friend for a chat, that he had not realised he had left the shop and that he had intended to pay for them. LCA however relied upon evidence from the shop manager that a shop assistant had seen him acting suspiciously by trying to conceal the goods and that Mr Stuart had left the shop boundary (which they said was clearly demarcated).
Mr Stuart brought a claim of unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal had considered that the LCA had conducted a reasonable investigation. However on appeal the EAT disagreed.
The EAT’s decision
The EAT held that the LCA had not investigated thoroughly enough because it had not:
If further investigation had been undertaken it was possible that the LCA would have decided that Mr Stuart had not acted dishonestly.
The EAT particularly noted that employees’ employed in a position of trust, as Mr Stuart was, an allegation of dishonesty is always serious and will therefore require careful investigation. That investigation should include evidence which might potentially be viewed as exculpatory or as consistent with the innocent explanation that is offered.
This case is a useful reminder for employers to conduct a thorough investigation, particularly where there the allegation is a serious one and the employee offers a reasonable explanation.