Howls of outrage greeted a Tribunal’s decision to rule unfair the dismissal of an employee on sick leave. The individual in question, a Mr Kane who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was absent after informing his employer that he was ‘bad on bed all day with me chest’.
Which seemed somewhat at odds with repeated sightings outside a pub, pint and fag in hand. The Company decided he had committed a ‘breach of trust and dishonesty’ and dismissed him. Job done.
Unfortunately, not. So confident was the Company of Mr Kane’s blatantly egregious behaviour that they skipped over the more boring minutiae of an adequate investigation, procedures and the individual’s ability to represent himself. And thereby came a cropper.
The Judge decided that the process was more form than substance, that guilt had been pre-determined and that therefore the dismissal was unfair. The standard of the company’s behaviour had been below that of a reasonable employer.
And therein lies the lesson. There is a huge corpus of similar cases where the apparent severity of the offence precluded the need for a reasonable investigation and procedure. Violence and theft in the workplace almost always deserve (and receive) dismissal as a penalty, but even here, very occasionally, dismissals have been found to be unfair because of non-existent procedures.
So never assume guilt and always, but always, obtain advice before acting.