Homeserve Emergency Services Ltd v Dixon UKEAT/0127/07
The EAT has held that it was implicit in the wording of a step one letter under the standard statutory disciplinary and dismissal procedure (SDDP) that the employee was at risk of dismissal and the fact that the letter did not explicitly refer to dismissal did not amount to a breach of the SDDP.
Mr Dixon was employed as a chief service engineer. He was dismissed when his manager caught him and a colleague using a company van and equipment to undertake private work during company time. Using a company vehicle for private purposes was against company rules and when the manager confronted Mr Dixon at the time he admitted that he had been using it for private purposes.
Mr Dixon was suspended and the company wrote to him asking him to attend a disciplinary hearing on the grounds that he had allegedly breached his contractual obligations by using company property for private business.
At the hearing Mr Dixon admitted the allegation and was then summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. Mr Dixon appealed and when this was dismissed he brought a claim of unfair dismissal.
The tribunal found that the company was correct to conclude that Mr Dixon was guilty of the alleged misconduct and the dismissal was a reasonable response. However, it found that there had been a breach of the SDDP because the company had failed to state in its step one letter that dismissal was a possible outcome and it had not given Mr Dixon further information to adequately argue his case as required by step two. These breaches meant that his dismissal was automatically unfair, but as he had contributed 100% to his dismissal, he was not entitled to a compensatory award.
On appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal referred to the statement in Alexander v Brigden Enterprises Limited that "at step one the employee simply needs to be told that he is at risk of dismissal and why." It found that, although the letter did not state that dismissal was a possibility, it was "implicit" on the particular facts of the case that the employer was contemplating dismissal and therefore the tribunal had been wrong in law to find that Homeserve had not complied with step one of the SDDP.
The EAT also overturned the tribunal's finding that the company had failed to comply with step two of the SDDP as Mr Dixon had never complained that he needed more information.
Impact on Employers
Although this case follows the current trend to interpret the statutory dispute resolution procedures in a broad manner, in this case the EAT has gone even further and read between the lines of the letter to look for the "implicit" meaning.
It is not clear from the case why the EAT felt that dismissal was implied when the letter alleged breach of contract. From a practical viewpoint employers should not assume that they can dismiss without making it explicit in the step one letter that the employee is at risk of being dismissed.