A teacher who was sacked from a Derbyshire school after an altercation with a student was sacked fairly, an Employment Tribunal has ruled.
The facts of the unfair dismissal claim
Mr Robert Cox, 59, taught at Bemrose School in Derbyshire. The incident occurred last year when Mr Cox grabbed a student who threw a milkshake over him and then made Mr Cox fear that a chair was going to be thrown at him. Mr Cox claimed that he used only such force as was reasonably necessary in the circumstances, including pinning the student’s arms to their side. The governors’ board at Bemrose concluded, however, that Mr Cox had used greater force than was reasonably necessary, including repeatedly pushing the student into a chair with such force that the adjacent tables and chairs were pushed a number of feet away.
The Tribunal claim
After being dismissed for gross misconduct Mr Cox obtained employment law advice and issued a complaint in the Employment Tribunal for, among other things, unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal ruled, however, that Mr Cox’s dismissal was both substantively and procedurally fair – the school had made a decision to dismiss Mr Cox that was within the reasonable range of responses and had conducted the dismissal process fairly. One of the key issues in this case appears to have been witness statements from Mr Cox’s colleagues at the school, which indicated that his behaviour had been “inappropriate and excessive” and that it was reasonable for the governors to believe that he had unreasonably “escalated the situation”.
The reaction of the school
Mrs Jo Ward, head teacher at Bemrose, stated afterwards that: “We are satisfied that the Employment Tribunal has agreed with our view that Mr Cox’s actions amounted to gross misconduct and we had no option but to dismiss him. Two different ruling panels of governors at Belorse School, whose members included parents and trade union members, were unanimous in their belief that Mr Cox’s actions went far beyond restraining the pupil, as claimed in the Tribunal.” Mrs Ward then went on to emphasize that all teachers at the school received training in defusing such situations.
Mr Cox’s reaction to the unfair dismissal judgment
Mr Cox, for his part, stressed that he was unhappy with the decision and would be seeking a review of the judgment and possibly an appeal. He stated that: “It was impossible to walk away from a situation where someone was threatening to throw a chair and it would have been negligent to ignore it. There were plenty of witnesses to what happened and for some reason they weren’t called but I want to speak to them. I think this judgment sends out a message to pupils that they can do what they want to get a teacher sacked and this leaves staff in a very vulnerable position”.
The law relating to unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal
For a dismissal to be unfair the employer must either make a decision to dismiss that was outside of the range of reasonable responses or the procedure that was used to dismiss the teacher must have been defective in some way (for example, another teacher in the same circumstances wasn’t dismissed).
Redmans are London employment lawyers.