General Vending Services v Schofield

In this employer-friendly decision concerning changing terms and conditions of employment, the company wanted to make changes to the terms and conditions of 30 of its engineers which would result in a reduction in salary, amongst other things. The employer had good business reasons for requiring the changes but, despite 24 out of 30 employees accepting the new terms, Mr Schofield did not and this led to his dismissal and the offer of re-engagement.

Mr Schofield brought a claim for unfair dismissal which succeeded at the employment tribunal on the basis that he acted reasonably in rejecting the changes as certain of them, relating to sick pay and holiday, were of particular importance to him. The employer appealed and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned the finding of unfairness stating that, even where an employee has acted reasonably in rejecting new terms, it will not automatically follow that the employer has behaved unreasonably so as to fall foul of the unfair dismissal legislation.

The EAT reiterated that 'while the reaction of employees was a relevant matter which an employer would take into account, it could not be decisive.' In fact, legal commentary suggests that, where both parties are acting reasonably, a decision as to the fairness of a dismissal where re-engagement is offered is likely to be made in favour of the employer. The EAT also commented that a persuasive indicator of an employer’s reasonableness is the number of employees who agree to the changes which, in this case, was a clear majority.