Christou and another v London Borough of Haringey UKEAT/0298/11 and 0299/11
The EAT held in this case that an employer will not necessarily be precluded from conducting second formal disciplinary proceedings against an employee in respect of a matter for which that employee has already been disciplined.
The two claimants in this case were the team manager and social worker responsible for the care of Baby P. Following Baby P’s death, Haringey’s Local Safeguarding Children Board investigated the claimants’ conduct under the council’s “Simplified Disciplinary Procedure”, which did not grant power to dismiss employees. The outcome was that the claimants were issued with written warnings for misconduct, the maximum penalty under the simplified procedure.
An investigation into Haringey’s child welfare services was later undertaken. One of the conclusions reached was that the first disciplinary proceedings had been inadequate, as they failed to consider the more serious issues. A second set of disciplinary proceedings was held under the council’s full procedure, and resulted in the claimants’ summary dismissal for gross misconduct.
The claimants challenged the fairness of their dismissals. The Employment Tribunal held that the dismissals were fair and the claimants appealed to the EAT.
The EAT upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision, holding that it had been correct to find that Haringey should not be restricted from instigating further disciplinary proceedings in a situation where the new senior management had taken a different view as to the seriousness of the conduct which had been the subject of the initial proceedings. The previous sanctions imposed on the employees were not sufficiently severe in the context of the extent of the employees’ failings.
While this decision confirms that the dismissal of an employee for an offence for which they have already been disciplined can be fair, employers should view the decision with extreme caution. The EAT was quick to warn that the circumstances in which it will be fair to instigate further disciplinary proceedings will be extremely rare. It will only be in exceptional circumstances that an employer can justify such actions, ordinarily by reference to the fact that significant further evidence came to light which meant its actions were reasonable.