Harsh but Fair

I recently mentioned a case I recalled from a few years ago where an employee attended a presentation to mark his own long-service and was subsequently sacked for drinking at the presentation ceremony and not returning to his shift.

A little detective work has unearthed the case in question. It was from 1999: Haddon v Van den Bergh Foods Ltd. The Employment Tribunal initially held that although the decision to sack the employee was harsh, the dismissal was “fair”. This was in accordance with what is known as the “range of reasonable responses” test, set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996. The Tribunal felt that the response by the employer (the dismissal of the employee) was within the range of reasonable responses open to an employer in the circumstances.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned this decision, saying the employer had acted unreasonably. The EAT commented that the range of reasonable responses test was not helpful in these circumstances. The EAT felt that applying the test resulted in a perverse outcome.

The employer appealed. The case was due to be heard in the Court of Appeal but settled privately beforehand. However, another case was heard by the Court of Appeal and the Haddon case was discussed. The Court of Appeal said that not applying the test was an “unwarranted departure from binding authority”.

That said, had the case proceeded, the Court of Appeal might have taken the view (it is certainly my view!) that it was perverse for the Tribunal to decide that the decision fell within the range of reasonable responses in these circumstances.

We can only guess at what the settlement was and whether the harshly treated Mr Haddon was adequately compensated by any settlement payment. However, like the MacDonalds case in my Just A Slice Of Cheese! blog, taking a step back and exercising a degree of common sense might have saved the employer a lot of time and expense as well as being to the benefit of their internal employee relations.