Woman fired over derogatory email comment was unfairly dismissed

Woman fired over derogatory email comment was unfairly dismissed

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld a previous decision that an employee of a motorcycle manufacturer who was fired after she called one of her colleagues a ‘knob head’ in a workplace email was unfairly dismissed.

Mrs. V Smith worked in product and systems manufacturing at Talon Engineering between 1994 and 30 September 2016. She was dismissed for gross misconduct after sending a series of emails to a contact in another trading partner company, in which she referred to an unnamed colleague as a ‘knob’ and a ‘knob head.’

The decision to dismiss Mrs. Smith was found to be unreasonable because of the company’s refusal to postpone her disciplinary hearing for a second time so that a particular union representative could attend.

Mrs. Smith’s initial disciplinary hearing was postponed, as she was unwell and required a period of annual leave. She was invited to a rearranged disciplinary hearing 10 days later on 29 September 2016, but her representative from trade union Unite was unavailable until two weeks later.

Talon Engineering refused to postpone the hearing a second time, arguing further delay would cause a greater strain on Mrs. Smith and the staff covering her work. Mrs. Smith subsequently refused to attend the hearing, so the organisation proceeded without her and she was instantly dismissed. Although an appeal hearing occurred, this was only to see if there were good reasons to interfere with the decision, which the organisation decided against.

Bristol Employment Tribunal concluded that no reasonable employer would have dismissed Smith and that Talon Engineering should have taken steps to postpone the disciplinary hearing.

Mrs. Smith, however, was found to have contributed to her dismissal, so a 15 per cent reduction was applied to her pay-out. This comprised a basic award of £11,554.69 and a compensatory award of £10,702.59 at a remedy hearing.

Talon Engineering appealed, arguing the Tribunal had substituted its own views for that of a reasonable employer and had failed to take account of employment relations legislation.

However, the EAT ruled the Tribunal had “properly directed” itself and Talon Engineering should not have taken the union representative’s inability to attend the disciplinary to mean it had no obligation to consider an adjournment.