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Unfair dismissal: reasonable investigation

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

An Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision confirms that a business must conduct a thorough investigation before dismissing an employee, especially where the employee’s integrity is in question, as a higher level of investigation may be required to establish their guilt (or otherwise) for a fair dismissal to be proved. This is especially so where the employee raises a plausible defence to a serious allegation.

The EAT held that, in an unfair dismissal case regarding alleged dishonest conduct, a higher threshold was required in terms of the reasonable investigation to be undertaken by an employer prior to dismissal. The employee in this case was employed at London City Airport. He had an impeccable record and in his most recent appraisal was graded “excellent”. However, he was dismissed for attempting to steal goods from a duty-free shop.

Of particular importance to the EAT in reaching its decision was the fact that the misconduct related to the claimant’s honesty. Although the employer had conducted an investigation prior to dismissing the employee, there was other evidence readily available which was ignored. CCTV footage may well have proved whether the employee had been acting dishonestly in the shop.

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