In the recent case of Ezsias v North Glamorgan NHS Trust, the EAT has held that where an employee's dismissal is primarily due to a breakdown in trust and confidence caused by the employee's conduct, the reason for the dismissal is not the employee's conduct itself and an employer does not need to follow its conduct dismissal procedures.
In this case, a consultant surgeon claimed that his dismissal was due to him making protected disclosures and was therefore automatically unfair. The claimant had been employed in various guises by the respondent NHS Trust from July 1998 to February 2005. During his employment, the claimant raised various allegations about the competence of his colleagues. These allegations led to a breakdown in the trust and confidence between the claimant and his colleagues. As a result of an inquiry into the allegations the claimant had made, his colleagues petitioned the management of the respondent to resolve the issue. The petition suggested that the claimant's behaviour was having a detrimental effect on the department. Following the submission of the petition, the respondent commissioned a senior HR professional to undertake an investigation into the breakdown of trust the petition had revealed. The respondent also suspended the claimant on the basis that 'serious concerns have been raised....concerning an apparent total breakdown in the working relationship between the claimant and senior staff within the department'.
The investigation found that the working relationship had irreparably broken down largely due to the claimant's actions. A series of meetings was held with the claimant as a result of the findings of the investigation and the claimant was dismissed due to the breakdown in the working relationship between him and the senior staff within his department and the fact that many of his colleagues would not be happy to work with him again. The claimant brought a claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and the tribunal found that his alleged protected disclosures had not been made in good faith. More importantly, the tribunal held that the dismissal was fair for some other substantial reason as it was due to the breakdown in working relationships and not the alleged disclosures.
The claimant appealed the decision of the employment tribunal on the basis that the respondent had failed to implement its own disciplinary procedures. The EAT held that the tribunal was correct to find that the reason for the dismissal was the breakdown of the working relationship and not the claimant's conduct (albeit that the claimant's conduct had caused the breakdown). As a result of this finding the decision to dismiss the claimant for some other substantial reason was fair.
Employers should ensure that the correct reason for dismissal is relied on to avoid any issues regarding the correct procedure being followed. This decision may assist employers in dismissing problem employees, but it is likely to depend on the level of breakdown of any working relationship and the employer being able to show that the breakdown in relationship led to the dismissal.