Do your ‘disciplinary procedures’ reflect your procedures on discipline?

The Industrial Tribunals in Belfast recently considered the fundamental importance of following disciplinary procedures to the letter.

By way of background, the Claimant had been employed as a lecturer by the respondent College since 1995.  The Tribunal heard that there ‘had been a history of conflict between the claimant and her line manager’.  In 2016, the College has contemplated disciplinary proceedings against the Claimant on foot of a complaint by her line manager but worked with her trade union to resolve matters and move forward on a ‘clean slate’ basis.

Despite this, the negative relationship between the Claimant and her line manager was allowed to continue culminating in a formal complaint against the Claimant. 

Under the College’s policy, there was a requirement to notify an alleged harasser of any complaint within ten days.  Despite this, the Claimant was not notified for three months.  The College then appointed an external investigating officer to investigate the complaint.  In doing so, they failed to adhere to their own policy.  In any event, the investigation upheld the complaint and recommended disciplinary proceedings.

In 2017, a further investigation took place on foot of fresh allegations of harassment.  The complaint was upheld, and disciplinary action recommended.   A disciplinary hearing concluded in early 2018 that the Claimant had committed misconduct and recommended dismissal.  This was subsequently ratified by the Governing Body.  The Claimant was notified of the decision and of her right to appeal.

An internal appeal took place in February 2018. It was not, however, conducted in accordance with the College’s Articles of Government.  In any event, the Claimant’s dismissal was confirmed. 

The matter was then referred by the Claimant to and independent appeals committee appointed by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), who upheld her appeal finding by a majority ‘…that there were significant matters of procedural and substantive unfairness which fatally affected the overall proves and the decision to dismiss the [Claimant].’

The Governing Body of the College met to consider this decision in September 2018 before writing to the Claimant to advise that they had rejected it.

The Industrial Tribunal concluded that, as the Respondent had not complied with the statutory procedure, the dismissal was automatically unfair. Further, it was held that there ‘…had been no appeal in any real sense’ from the decision of the Governing Body: 

That offends against the basic principles of national justice.  Unless there are special circumstances, which make it unavoidable, no-one should hear an appeal against their own decision.  There were no such circumstances in this case and the procedure was blatantly, and unnecessarily, unfair.

A further hearing is to be convened to determine remedies.

Do your ‘disciplinary procedures’ reflect your procedures on discipline?

For more information about this article, or any other aspect of our business and personal legal solutions, get in touch.

​Walsh v Belfast Metropolitan College (The Industrial Tribunals, 6 January 2020)

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