Mr Noel Burns was employed as a shoe repairer by CRC Developments Ltd t/a Bewdley Cobblers until an incident that occurred last year, resulting in Mr Burn’s dismissal. Mr Burns had complained about CCTV being installed in the cobblers shop and that Mr Cheatham (the owner of the shop) had left his daughter in charge of the shop while Mr Cheatham went on holiday with his wife to France. Shortly after these complaints Mr Cheatham discovered that there was a shortfall in the cash float for the shop and suspected Mr Burns of stealing from the float. He invited Mr Burns to a disciplinary hearing and dismissed him shortly afterwards.
Mr Burns subsequently filed a claim for unfair dismissal at the Employment Tribunal. At the Employment Tribunal liability hearing it emerged that although Mr Cheatham suspected Mr Burns of stealing the money he wasn’t able to prove this as there were often discrepancies with the way business was conducted, including Mr Burns’ allegation that the till was often £20 under the expected amount. The Employment Judge, Ms Harding, said that she sympathized with Mr Cheatham and found him to be an honest witness who believed that Mr Burns had stolen the money. However, she found that Mr Cheatham had failed to inform Mr Burns of why he was being invited to a disciplinary hearing and was not questioned at the hearing as to his involvement. Further, she found that Mr Cheatham had already made his mind up as to what the outcome of the hearing would be prior to the disciplinary hearing, had failed to carry out a proper investigation, and had not been given a right of appeal. For that reason the Employment Judge ruled that Mr Burns had been unfairly dismissed. She did, however, stated that the Tribunal award of compensation may be reduced for contributory fault and rejected Mr Burns’ claim for holiday pay.
This case demonstrates the dangers of dismissing an employee without having conducted the proper disciplinary procedures first. If Mr Cheatham had carried out a proper investigation and had put his case to Mr Burns in the disciplinary procedure (as well as allowing an appeal) then it is probable that Mr Burns would have been fairly dismissed.