Case law updates

“Show trial” process leads to large UD pay out

In the case of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) v Donald Nutt, a Tribunal has ordered SSE to pay £230,000 for unfair dismissal after it criticised a disciplinary process as “reminiscent of a show trial in the former Soviet Union”.

Nutt, who had worked at the firm for 16 years before his dismissal in October 2014, was dismissed because of “a breakdown in trust and confidence” between him and his employer. However, the Tribunal felt that SSE did not know what to do with him and had treated him “appallingly”.

From 2012, Nutt raised health and safety issues with management, following a company initiative that had encouraged employees to champion different areas of health and safety. Nutt had focused on shift work and its possible impact on employee health. He came to “genuinely believe” SSE was in breach of its H&S obligations. In a series of meetings over two years the company maintained that its approach ‘”ticked all the boxes” and decided to maintain its shift patterns.

Nutt raised a grievance against the company, which was not upheld, and he was then accused of failing to accept its findings and being incapable of receiving criticism. In March 2013 he received his first-ever poor appraisal score and received an informal warning. He was then signed off work due to “physical and mental strain due to work”. When he returned after two months, HR informed him that he was suspended pending disciplinary action.

The Tribunal found that there was “practically no investigation or discussion about what Mr Nutt was supposed to have done on the basis of these allegations, which left him in the ‘Kafkaesque’ position of – as he put it – arguing that he was not argumentative. He said there was no chance of a fair procedure since the allegations were so ambiguous.”

The Tribunal found there was no substantial reason to justify Nutt’s dismissal and also criticised a “lackadaisical” approach to company policies. The Tribunal initially ordered SSE to rehire Nutt. When it didn’t do this the award was increased from £140,000 to £230,000.