Refusal to postpone a disciplinary hearing may render a dismissal procedurally unfair


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The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has considered the relationship between the fairness of a dismissal and an employer's refusal to postpone a disciplinary hearing because of the unavailability of the worker's chosen companion in Talon Engineering v Smith.

The claimant had worked for the respondent since 1994. She was suspended in July 2016 when it was discovered that she had sent some unprofessional emails to a customer. The disciplinary hearing was postponed due to the claimant's illness and she then sought to have it postponed a second time because her chosen companion (a trade union official) was not available on the rescheduled date. Her employer refused, the hearing went ahead and she was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

Although the tribunal held that the reason for dismissal was conduct, it found that the dismissal had been procedurally unfair due to the employer's refusal to postpone the disciplinary hearing for a short time to allow the claimant's chosen companion to accompany her. The EAT dismissed the respondent's appeal, holding that the respondent had been unreasonably hasty in not accommodating a second short delay for an employee with 21 years of service. It had acted outside the range of reasonable responses and therefore the dismissal was procedurally unfair.

Take note: Following the decision in Talon Engineering employers should be wary of refusing an employee's request to postpone a disciplinary hearing due to the unavailability of their chosen companion. If such a refusal is unreasonable then it's possible that any subsequent dismissal will be held to be procedurally unfair even if a fair reason is established.

This article is taken from HR Law - September 2018.

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