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Employment Law Case Update: Unfair Dismissal and Wrongful Dismissal

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As an employer, you may well find your self in the situation where you have been presented with information that suggests an employee has been acting inappropriately at work. While these situations should never be dismissed out of hand, the ensuing investigation should be thorough and detailed. In the case of Hyland v Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company Limited, the consequences of a poor and vague investigation are made clear.

Ms Hyland was employed by Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company Limited from 1998 to August 2017. Previously, she’d worked for the Greater Manchester Probation Service before transferring to the company in July 2014.

Ms Hyland worked with persons aged under 25 who had been convicted of domestic violence. Ms Hyland became senior case manager for a service user (SU) who then raised a number of allegations against her. SU informed his housing support officer that Ms Hyland allowed SU to live in her house, loaned him money and would send numerous text messages to him.

SU further alleged that Ms Hyland grew cannabis in her house which they would smoke together and that SU had attended a family wedding with Ms Hyland.

On 9 August 2016, Ms Hyland was suspended pending investigation into the allegations. On 16 August 2016, Vicky Travis began an investigation on behalf of the company. Numerous pieces of evidence were collected from SU including proof of his living with Ms Hyland by accurately describing the floor plan and showing several pictures of the inside of Ms Hyland’s home.

Ms Hyland responded to the evidence claiming that the pictures had been taken whilst she was on holiday. Ms Hyland stated that her mother had been house sitting when she noticed a man peering through the window. The man entered the house saying he was a friend of Ms Hyland; the man fit the description of SU.

The police carried out a search of Ms Hyland’s house and found no trace of cannabis with Ms Hyland stating she had never smoked it. In relation to the wedding, Ms Hyland said she had not attended and the photos had been taken from Facebook. The text messages were thrown into question as they could be falsified; but an expert analysis of the messages could not determine whether the messages were fraudulent.

Ms Travis felt there was enough evidence to support the case proceeding to a disciplinary hearing and no further investigation was undertaken. Ms Hyland was dismissed on 3 August 2017 for failure “to uphold the professional standards and breached boundaries expected of an offender manager”. Ms Hyland appealed the decision to dismiss but this was unsuccessful.

Ms Hyland brought claims of unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal to the Employment Tribunal (ET). The ET found in Ms Hyland’s favour – concluding that the investigation had not been sufficient. Ms Travis failed to ask for SU’s phone records to determine the validity of the text messages. The ET found that there “seems to have been a blanket acceptance that anything said by SU was accurate.”

The ET was critical of the investigation, finding that the company had failed to satisfy the tribunal that Ms Hyland had failed to uphold the professional standards and boundaries expected of an offender manager.

This case highlights the importance of the investigation into allegations of misconduct and/or gross misconduct. Given this can ruin a professional’s career; the ET will place a higher threshold on what is considered to be a reasonable investigation.

If you have any questions on how to conduct an investigation or how to carry out disciplinary proceedings please contact the Employment team on 023 8071 7717 or email them at 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.