Workplace disciplinary proceedings are always tense and it is vital to remember that their reasonableness is likely to be examined in detail by Employment Tribunals (ETs) after the event. In a case on point, a carpenter who was sacked after being accused of describing gay people as his pet hate succeeded in unfair and wrongful dismissal claims.
The man enjoyed an unblemished disciplinary record during his 14 years working for a social housing provider. After a tenant complained that he had made homophobic comments, however, he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. His internal appeal was rejected but, after he contacted specialist solicitors, they launched proceedings on his behalf before an ET.
In upholding his claims, the ET noted that the tenant’s identity had been kept from him during the disciplinary process and and that neither of the managers who dealt with the matter had met her. There had been no attempt to look for inconsistencies in her complaint and the managers’ acceptance of her word over that of the carpenter was unreasonable in the circumstances.
In the light of glowing character references, including from a gay friend, the ET found it highly unlikely that he would have made the comments alleged. The tenant had a motive for embellishing her account and it was probable that she had done so. She had not sought his dismissal and sacking him fell outside the band of reasonable responses open to the employer. His treatment also amounted to a repudiatory breach of his employment contact. The amount of his compensation has yet to be assessed but is bound to be substantial.