Case law updates

Failure to investigate properly leads to unfair dismissal ruling

An Employment Tribunal has ruled that a hospital security officer was unfairly dismissed. After lodging a grievance his employer failed to properly investigate the issues he had raised.

Mr Brough began work at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust as a full-time security officer in January 2012. In January 2016 he emailed the Trust’s chief nurse on behalf of a security officer working at the site about “difficulties” that had arisen in the department, claiming that security officers “had lost trust in management”.

Following contact with the HR department Mr Brough was told that officers “should not go straight to executive colleagues but should use the appropriate workforce policy”. The officers then contacted their trade union and raised a collective grievance, written by Mr Brough and signed by seven individuals.

The hospital instructed an independent HR consultant to investigate the grievance. He interviewed managers and some of the complainants in October 2016. After initial meetings, all the individuals withdrew from the grievance, with Mr Brough the last to do so. The consultant suggested the Trust consider “whether any further action should be taken” as a result of the grievance being lodged and then withdrawn. He cited provisions in the grievance and disputes policy and the acceptable behaviour at work policy suggesting that where grievances or complaints were found to have been made maliciously or in bad faith they would be treated as potential gross misconduct.

However the Tribunal believed that the consultant “had not investigated the grievance, made findings of fact and determined it had been made maliciously or in bad faith”. He had “simply conducted some initial interviews”.

Although a further investigation by a senior manager concluded that it was unclear whether the complaint had been made in bad faith, Mr Brough was subsequently suspended. The manager invited him to further meetings, and the notes of these meetings “do not record her going through with him the substance of the underlying complaints or the evidence relating to those” according to the Tribunal. The manager did not show Mr Brough the notes of interviews with other individuals involved in another disciplinary proceeding but which related to his case, or further evidence from the grievance investigation. Mr Brough later heard that her view was that the collective grievance “had been submitted in bad faith and should be considered as a disciplinary matter”.

A disciplinary hearing found that Mr Brough’s actions amounted to gross misconduct and he was dismissed with immediate effect. The Tribunal found however that the manager who dealt with the case did not explain “what findings of misconduct he had made”, did not “explain what sanctions he had considered” or ask Mr Brough about mitigating circumstances.

In summary the Tribunal took the view that the way the case had been dealt with was “outside the range of what was reasonable in terms of investigation, grounds for belief and procedure”.