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The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) heard that Mr Steen was dismissed from his job as a print supervisor for trying to undermine the Managing Director and get him dismissed  which included a phone call to Maurice Hartley the Chairman and controlling shareholder (who has not felt like doing that…….?).

Can you believe the resulting disciplinary process was actually chaired by the wife of the Chairman?

Needless to say, the dismissal which followed was found by the original Employment Tribunal (ET) to be unfair for procedural reasons. 

“…… it is clear ……. that were it not for this procedural defect the Respondent would have been acting reasonably in dismissing the claimant.

However, the original tribunal went on to say “ We find that the claimant’s conduct in the events which culminated in his dismissal demonstrates significant contributory fault on his part. Indeed, we find that as a consequence of his actions the claimant was entirely responsible for his own dismissal. Even if the question of contributory fault is put to one side, the claimant would only be entitled to compensation for unfair dismissal if the outcome of the disciplinary process would have been different but for the procedural defect we have identified.”

The ET also went on to conclude that: “There was little if any likelihood that there would have been a different outcome in the disciplinary process had the appeal hearing not been presided over by [the Chairman’s wife] but had been dealt with instead by someone who did not have a conflict of interest.”

The ET then  made a ruling that an award for unfair dismissal should be reduced by 100% for contributory fault. 

It is unusual to hold that there was a 100% chance that employment would have been terminated even if the procedure had been fair. It is also unusual but legally possible to find a conclusion that an Applicant who succeeds in establishing that there was procedural unfair dismissal has contributed to his dismissal to the extent of 100%.  Mr Steels appeal was allowed and remitted to a fresh Tribunal.

Outline of the law

In a case in which contributory fault is asserted the Tribunal’s award is subject to sections 122(2) and 123(6) of theEmployment Rights Act 1996. Section 122(2)

Of interest to HR readers, the EAT set out the four stages which should be addressed when deciding the question of compensation, namely:

  1. it must identify the conduct which is said to give rise to possible contributory fault;
  2. having identified that it must ask whether that conduct is blameworthy;
  3. it must ask for the purposes of section 123(6) if the conduct which it has identified and which it considers blameworthy caused or contributed to the dismissal to any extent; and
  4. to what extent should the award should be reduced and to what extent is it just and equitable to reduce it.

Citation for Steen v Asp Packaging Ltd (and read the full transcript): UKEAT/0023/13/LA