Employers are sometimes tempted to conduct witch hunts against members of their staff, digging up dirt on them in an attempt to justify disciplinary proceedings. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, exposure of such conduct is likely to have costly consequences.
The case concerned a successful branch manager who worked for a retail chain. He resigned, giving about three months’ notice, after finding a better-paid job elsewhere. Three of his colleagues handed in their notice on the same day. The resignations gave rise to a great deal of anger on the part of other members of the branch’s staff.
He was suspended without warning partway through his notice period, pending a disciplinary investigation. He faced an allegation that he had sold stock to his father at a grossly excessive discount. He resigned for a second time a few days later, this time with immediate effect, and subsequently launched ET proceedings.
In upholding his constructive unfair dismissal claim, the ET found that he had been subjected to a witch hunt. Following his initial resignation, outside managers had been deployed to the branch to look for dirt on him and the others who had given notice. There was nothing suspicious about the transaction with his father that warranted any kind of investigation and any suggestion of fraud on his part was unsustainable.
The ET did not accept that his line manager, who was the key figure in driving the witch hunt, genuinely believed that the transaction was suspicious. Angered by his resignation, the line manager was looking to pin something on him. His suspension without reasonable or proper cause was likely to seriously damage or destroy the employment relationship and amounted to a repudiatory breach of his contract.
The amount of the employee’s compensation would be assessed at a further hearing if not agreed. The ET further ruled that his compensatory award should be uplifted by 25 per cent to reflect the employer’s unreasonable failure to comply with the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures 2015.