25 August 2011 #Employment
The case of Ricketts v Parson Cross Domestic Abuse Project ET/2802125/10 will act as a reminder to employers of the importance of dealing with disciplinary matters consistently. In this case the Claimant, who the Tribunal accepted had attended work under the influence of alcohol, won her claim of unfair dismissal.
The Claimant was employed as a support worker for domestic abuse victims. The Respondent was aware that in 2008 the Claimant had entered into an alcohol detox programme and was suffering from occupational stress.
In January 2010 she attended work and was reported by her colleagues to be acting strangely, slurring her words, moving slowly and deliberately and laughing hysterically as if drunk. The Claimant`s manager sent her home from work as a result.
In 2007 the Claimant and a number of her workmates had complained that the manager had attended work under the influence of alcohol, but no disciplinary action was taken against her. The Claimant on the other hand was suspended and ultimately dismissed following an investigation and disciplinary procedure despite making representations that she has an alcohol addiction for which she was seeking help as a result of stress and bullying at work. The Respondent`s disciplinary procedure listed "working…under the influence of alcohol" as an example of gross misconduct, which may justify summary dismissal.
The Claimant appealed her dismissal arguing that it was "punitive rather than…corrective", and that a warning would have been more appropriate given her circumstances. Her appeal was rejected and she commenced Tribunal proceedings claiming unfair dismissal.
The Tribunal found the treatment of the Claimant was not consistent with that of her manager. It also found that the Respondent had failed to take into account the Claimant`s personal circumstances and failed to investigate her complaints of bullying. This meant that her dismissal was outside the range of reasonable responses available to the Respondent and was therefore unfair.
The Tribunal accepted that the Claimant had contributed in part to her dismissal by attending work under the influence of alcohol and held that the compensation she received should be reduced by 10%.
This case also demonstrates that, whilst it is useful for employers to have a list of actions that may constitute gross misconduct set out in their disciplinary policies, they should ensure that they always carefully consider the circumstances of each case when determining whether the action should be considered to be gross misconduct or negligence rather than instantly dismissing for a breach of a disciplinary rule.