Employers often feel a degree of frustration when handling employee grievances. No matter what investigations are undertaken or findings made, the employee still brings a claim. The case of Bournemouth University v Buckland illustrates how the potential frustration of conducting a grievance process can have attractive rewards down the line…
Professor Buckland led a course known as Reconstruction of Environment and Economy. A dispute developed regarding the marking of the examination on that course, which in the summer of 2006 had an exceptionally high failure rate. It is possible that many of the students, like us, did not have the first clue what the course actually entailed! The University arranged for certain papers to be remarked by another member of staff and those (generally higher) marks were then communicated to the students without further reference to Professor Buckland. Buckland was generally unhappy about these goings on and raised a grievance. The University launched an inquiry into the matter and eventually made a finding that the Professor should have been consulted when the papers were re-marked. However, Buckland felt that the finding was not enough to vindicate him and so resigned claiming constructive dismissal. The Tribunal upheld his claim.
The EAT, interestingly, disagreed and held that there was no constructive dismissal. Although there had been a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence when the University failed to refer to the Professor before communicating the revised scores to candidates, the internal report had remedied that breach prior to his resignation.
This case illustrates how useful a prompt, well conducted grievance investigation accompanied by reasonable findings can be. It is self-evident how beneficial it will be to argue that, "yes, something went wrong, but we have remedied it and there is no claim". Further, there is comfort in a decision that shows that upholding a complaint, at an internal level, which employers are often loathe to do, does not necessarily mean that an employee will succeed in that complaint at the Tribunal. This is logical since Tribunals should support employers who act within the spirit and purpose of a grievance process, i.e. to resolve matters internally without the need for reference to a tribunal.