A recent case reminds employers to think carefully about how they deal with the dismissal of employees, even those with less than two years’ service.
After three months’ employment, Ms Otshudi was told that she was being made redundant. She questioned whether she was actually being dismissed because of her race. The dismissing manager reiterated, with two other managers present, that the reason was redundancy and challenged her to say that her dismissal was discrimination. She was told to take her belongings and leave. She submitted a letter of grievance and an appeal against her dismissal but her employer never responded. As a result of her dismissal, she suffered from depression.
Ms Otshudi was not entitled to claim unfair dismissal due to her short service, but she brought claims for race discrimination.
The tribunal agreed that her dismissal amounted to discrimination. Ms Otshudi had been given a patently false reason for her dismissal (her employer initially said that her dismissal was because of redundancy but later changed its position to say that she was dismissed for suspected theft). The tribunal inferred that a racial element had contributed to her dismissal.
Ms Otshudi was awarded damages of around £24,000 in respect of injury to feelings, personal injury and aggravated damages as a result of the employer’s conduct, with a 25% uplift for failure to follow the ACAS code by not responding to her post-termination grievance. The awards were high as the employer acted so egregiously and because of the impact on Ms Otshudi’s health.
Some employers might think that where someone does not have enough service to bring an unfair dismissal claim, they do not need to worry about how they terminate their contract. However, as this case shows, employers should always give clear and valid reasons for any dismissal, whatever length of service applies.