In a recent case, the EAT has taken the opportunity to remind employers about key factors it will take into account when consider a claim for unfair dismissal.
Ms Jhuti worked as a media specialist in the Royal Mail’s Sales Division. She believed she had witnessed some irregularities in the way her colleagues were offering discounts to clients and disclosed this to her line manager. Her line manager subsequently pressured her into withdrawing these allegations, having threatened her future within the company.
Over the coming months, Ms Jhuti experienced a strained relationship with her line manager. Eventually she submitted a grievance and then was signed off from work due to work-related stress. Subsequently, she was informed that the termination of her employment was being considered. She was too unwell to attend a meeting but provided emails to the investigating officer, including details of the protected disclosure she had withdrawn.
Ultimately, she was dismissed with three months’ notice. Her dismissal letter cited only her unsatisfactory performance in the company as the reason for this. Although the protected disclosure was addressed, the investigating officer confirmed that she had spoken to Ms Jhuti’s line manager who had confirmed that the protected disclosure had been based on a ‘misunderstanding of procedures’.
Aggrieved by the decision, Ms Jhuti raised a claim in the Employment Tribunal which found that on the basis of the information provided to her, it was inevitable that the investigating officer chose to dismiss her. However, they went on to say that this was influenced by the actions of Ms Jhuti’s line manager, taking his motivation into account and that the dismissal was therefore unfair. The Royal Mail appealed.
The EAT held that the tribunal had been wrong to take into account the motivations of the line manager and attribute these to the employer. The tribunal should have only considered what was in the mind of the decision maker when they made the decision to dismiss. It is only this that can speak to the mind of the employer.
This is an important case for employers as it gives them a little more protection. Although decision makers should gather as much evidence as possible during an investigation, they cannot be blamed when they have been intentionally misled by another manager or member of staff. It also delivers a valuable lesson in how not to deal with protected disclosures. These can be a tricky area as managers may not want to stir the pot in the workplace but it is important they are handled appropriately. If you have any questions on this, you should contact your Legal Manager today.