1. Unreasonable delay in dealing with any stage of the statutory dismissal procedure will lead to a finding of automatic unfair dismissal (regardless of whether every other procedural step is complied with).

(Decision by EAT in Wilmot, Wilmot and Patel v Selvarajan [2007]).

2. Refusal by an employer to depart from its grievance procedure can amount to a fundamental breach of contract.

(Decision by EAT in GMB Trade Union v Brown [2007]).


As usual, employers need to take care in applying both (i) statutory dismissal and grievance procedures and (ii) their own procedures.

The above cases in particular suggest that:

1. each step under the statutory procedures should be taken swiftly and without unreasonable delay to avoid a finding of automatic unfair dismissal, or, by analogy, a failure to deal with a grievance; and

2. you should remain flexible in the way you apply your own internal grievance procedure, particularly when it is reasonably foreseeable that an employee's health will suffer if you do not. In particular you should be prepared to depart from your procedure in circumstances where an employee is bringing their grievance against the line-manager (or any other individual) due to hear the grievance.


1. Wilmot, Wilmot and Patel v Selvarajan [2007]

The Respondent, a GP, dismissed the Claimants, who were his receptionists, on 5th March 2005 for making fraudulent overtime claims. The Claimants appealed and the Respondent considered (and rejected) their appeals on 8th July 2005. The Tribunal found the dismissals to be fair. The receptionists appealed.

The statutory dismissal procedure requires all steps to be taken "without unreasonable delay". The Claimants argued that there was unreasonable delay before the appeal was heard and therefore the procedures were not completed. This meant the dismissals were automatically unfair. The Respondent argued that the procedures were completed as the appeal had in fact been heard.

The EAT held that the statutory procedures can only be "completed" if done in accordance with the general requirements of the procedures.

This means that any unreasonable delay or, indeed, unreasonable timing or location of meetings will lead to a finding of automatic unfair dismissal. (The EAT made no finding as to whether there was, in fact, unreasonable delay in these circumstances.)

2. GMB Trade Union v Brown [2007]

The Claimant brought a grievance against her line manager, but did not want him to deal with the grievance himself. The line manager refused to vary the contractual grievance procedure, which provided that he should hear the grievance at its first stage.

After months of argument and trying to persuade the Respondent to allow someone else to deal with the grievance, the Claimant resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal.

The Tribunal found that the Respondent had breached the implied duty of trust and confidence by failing to progress the Claimant's grievance and insisting that the Claimant rigidly follow its own contractual grievance procedure. As a result the Claimant had been constructively unfairly dismissed.

The EAT upheld the Tribunal's findings. One of the key considerations was that the Claimant's line-manager had known that any further meetings with him would be likely to damage the Claimant's health. It was these special circumstances that allowed the EAT to find it was unreasonable for any reasonable employer to insist upon full compliance with the grievance procedure.

The EAT also held that the fact the grievance procedure was an express term of the Claimant's employment contract did not preclude a finding that rigid application of this term could amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.