Whilst such cases can often appear clear cut, a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision offers a useful reminder of the importance of following a fair procedure prior to dismissal, even where it is evident a criminal act has been committed.
In the case of Evans v London Borough of Brent, Mr Evans was employed as Deputy Headteacher of a state school. Following allegations of financial impropriety against him, disciplinary proceedings were commenced.
Prior to the disciplinary hearing, Mr Evans was provided with extensive paperwork relating to the investigation. Mr Evans requested an extension of time to master the paperwork and to be accompanied by his sister, who had previously accompanied him to interviews but who was on holiday on the scheduled hearing date. Mr Evans's request was denied and he was dismissed following the hearing.
Mr Evans's unfair dismissal claim was stayed pending the outcome of the criminal case against him, which found he had received unlawful overpayments amounting to some £250,000. His Employment Tribunal claim was then struck out on the basis that there was no prospect of Mr Evans recovering financial compensation due to his own conduct.
Mr Evans appealed, arguing he had reasonable prospects of success in respect of the alleged procedural unfairness, and that this alone was sufficient for the claim to proceed. The EAT upheld the appeal. It held Mr Evans's unfair dismissal claim could proceed, despite there being no prospect of monetary compensation. In its ruling, the EAT acknowledged the importance for Mr Evans of a finding of unfair dismissal, which has a value of its own separate to the issue of monetary compensation.
Although it may be apparent on the facts of the case that dismissal is inevitable, it is important for schools ensure a fair procedure in all circumstances.
In this case, procedural fairness could have been achieved by granting a reasonable extension of time to allow Mr Evans to consider the bundle, and also by allowing his sister, who had accompanied him in the past, to attend the hearing. Had the school accepted a short delay in order to achieve a fair process, it could have saved the considerable expense of defending its position at Tribunal.