Have you ever had 'handbags at dawn' in the workplace?

Mr Spoor had worked for Arnold Clark Automobiles Ltd for 42 years as a motor vehicle technician. In 2015, the company had 1000 employees over 200 branches and 15 HR members of staff. Mr Spoor and an apprentice had a minor disagreement in which Mr Spoor grabbed the apprentice in the collar area but denied physical violence.

Mr Spoor came into work the following day, apologised to the apprentice and shock hands. Mr Spoor’s line manager confirmed he would be issuing a ‘letter of concern’ and that no formal action would be taken against him.

All resolved you would think………!

The line manager informed the HR department of the incident describing it as ‘had some handbags between two guys here and we will be issuing Mr Spoor with a letter of concern’. However, HR decided that a full investigation needed to be carried out as the company’s disciplinary procedure stated that physical violence could be considered as Gross Misconduct and if proven the employee could be dismissed without notice in lieu.

Mr Spoor was suspended and then invited to a formal disciplinary hearing and dismissed for physical violence towards another employee without any notice.  Mr Spoor was unsuccessful in his internal appeal and bought a claim to an Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal, breach of contract and failure to pay notice pay…..AND WON!

What the employer failed to consider before making a decision to terminate the contract:

  • The line manager was not spoken to as part of the investigation
  • The apprentice was not spoken to as part of the investigation to obtain their opinion regarding the severity of the incident
  • Mr Spoor’s unblemished 42 years service was not taken into account
  • The level or degree of physical violence

Moral of the story

All employers must apply their disciplinary policy carefully, ensure a full and fair investigation has been carried out, managers are trained correctly and take mitigating circumstances are taken into account.

If you require any employment law advice contact aspire cambridge who can provide you with peace of mind that your policies are compliant. Please take advantage of our pay as you go HR advice line on 01223 855441 and our HR support services.