Arnold Clark Automotives Ltd v Spoor arose out of the misconduct dismissal of the claimant. In a dispute over the breakdown of a printer in the workshop computer room, the claimant had grabbed a colleague by the collar. He was ultimately dismissed for gross misconduct – physical violence towards another employee.
However, the incident was initially dealt with the next day by the claimant's manager. He called both employees into his office and told them that he had decided not to proceed with any formal disciplinary action but that he was going to issue the claimant with a “letter of concern”, in accordance with the employer's informal procedure. The claimant apologised to his colleague, confirming that he knew that he was in the wrong. They shook hands and both returned to work.
On the same day the workshop controller sent a copy of the letter to the HR manager, saying "Had some handbags between two guys here and we will be issuing [the claimant] with this letter. A copy for your records."
The HR Manager took a different view and ultimately dismissed the claimant for gross misconduct, stating that the company operated a zero tolerance policy towards physical violence. Both she and the senior HR adviser who heard the claimant's unsuccessful appeal declined to consider the surrounding circumstances, or to undertake any assessment as to the level or degree of violence. The claimant's 42 years’ continuous service, with an exemplary disciplinary record, was also ignored.
Both the Employment Tribunal and the EAT decided that the dismissal was unfair. The HR department had proceeded on the basis that because there was gross misconduct the claimant had to be dismissed. There was no evidence that the company did operate a zero tolerance policy towards physical violence. If anything, the contrary was the case – the disciplinary procedure stated that an employee would "normally" be dismissed without notice in cases of gross misconduct. The employer had to exercise a discretion about whether to dismiss and, by refusing to view the allegations in the context of all the surrounding circumstances and to consider the claimant’s long exemplary disciplinary record, it had failed to do so in this case.