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Breakdown in Working Relationship Led to Fair Dismissal

on Friday, 21 August 2020.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently held dismissal of an employee for 'some other substantial reason' was not unfair.

The EAT took into account the fact the Claimant herself recognised the breakdown in her working relationship with her manager, and had no interest in repairing it.

Personality Clash

In the recent case of Gallacher v Abellio Scotrail Ltd, the Claimant had been employed since 2007 and initially had a good working relationship with her manager. They were both senior employees. In 2014, the Claimant was denied a salary increase and the relationship between the two deteriorated. Following this, the Claimant was unhappy with a change in her work schedule and made it clear she was looking for another role.

After several discussions it became clear there was an insurmountable personality clash between the Claimant and her manager. The Claimant openly made negative comments about her manager and admitted she did not behave towards anyone else in the same way. Around this time, the Claimant's direct reports also expressed concern about her leadership and her ability to delegate and provide support.

By her own admission, the Claimant said the relationship had broken down and she had never shown any interest in repairing it. When the company began trading at a loss, changes needed to be made quickly. There were no signs the relationship could be repaired and no alternative roles for the Claimant. The Claimant was dismissed and brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

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It was accepted that no fair procedure had been followed prior to the termination of the Claimant's employment. However, given the Claimant's unwillingness to repair the working relationship, the EAT held that a fair process would not have resulted in a different outcome, ie the preservation of the Claimant's job.  

Best Practice For Employers

This case highlights how important context is in personality clash scenarios, particularly the attitude and willingness of both sides to resolve the difficulties. Where one employee steadfastly refuses to entertain the prospect of repairing the working relationship, this may indeed support dismissal for 'some other substantial reason', which can otherwise be hard to justify.

However, the case should not be viewed as a green light to dispense with a fair procedure before terminating employment. In reality, had a fair process been followed in this case, it would have been harder for the Claimant to argue her dismissal was unfair. This could potentially have saved the time and cost of defending expensive Tribunal proceedings.

For specialist legal advice regarding grounds for dismissal, please contact Alice Reeve in our Employment Law team on 07741 271 363 or complete the form below.

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