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Employment Law Case Update: Conducting Investigations

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If you suspect an employee of misconduct, it is of vital importance that you carry out a full and thorough investigation to make sure any disciplinary action you take has a solid foundation and is fair and reasonable. When explaining your findings, you must ensure that proper evidence is fully considered and used to avoid any claims of unfair dismissal. 

The importance of using proper evidence is illustrated by the case of Hope v United Biscuits.

Mr Hope, employed by United Biscuits, fractured his ankle after he stepped off a pallet at work. In the initial accident report, he stated that he’d tried to step over the pallet, but he later changed his statement.

Mr Garner, a team manager, reviewed the CCTV footage and statements about the incident and arranged a phone interview with Mr Hope, who was absent from work as a result of the incident. Mr Hope was not informed at the time that his employer had seen the CCTV footage. Mr Hope stated in the telephone call that he could not remember how the accident happened, other than he felt a “twinge” in his ankle and that after turning down the radio and coming off the pallet, he knew there was something wrong. Mr Hope also confirmed that he was on strong painkillers at the time.

During a second phone call on 26 April, Mr Hope was informed that employee statements taken at the time suggested he had put a pallet down and tripped over it. Mr Hope said he did not think that was the correct.

In another meeting on 9 May, Mr Garner said it was the force of Mr Hope falling down from the pallet after adjusting the radio that had caused the injury. Mr Hope said this was not in his statement because he never thought there was any force.

By a letter dated 10 May, Mr Garner informed Mr Hope that he was suspended from work because he “knowingly provided the business with a false statement” during the investigation. A disciplinary meeting took place on 17 May and a final disciplinary hearing on 29 May, in which he was informed of his dismissal, with immediate effect, for gross misconduct. Mr Hope appealed his dismissal but was unsuccessful.

Mr Hope bought claims in the Employment Tribunal (ET) for unfair and wrongful dismissal. 

The ET ruled that no reasonable employer would have believed Mr Hope’s initial statement, which was used at the disciplinary hearings, was intentionally untrue, because it was taken and signed before he went to hospital, while he was in pain.

The tribunal held that little consideration was given to the more detailed statement he made at the earliest opportunity after the night of the incident.

Mr Hope’s claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal were upheld because United Biscuits had focused on Mr Hope’s initial statement without putting much weight on what he said later.

This case illustrates that employers should consider all of the evidence available to them when assessing an allegation of gross misconduct and ensure the content they use is accurate and up to date.

If you need advice on how to conduct an investigation into potential employee misconduct, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or click here for the subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.