Unfair Dismissal: Withholding Evidence from a Disciplinary Panel
In the recent case of Hargreaves v Manchester Grammar , the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that it was not unfair for an employer to withhold certain evidence from a disciplinary panel on the facts of the case.
Mr Hargreaves was a teacher employed by Manchester Grammar School (the “Respondent”) and it was alleged that Mr Hargreaves had grabbed a pupil, pushed him against a wall and put his fingers to the pupil’s throat. Mr Hargreaves was dismissed by a disciplinary panel and an Employment Tribunal found the dismissal to be fair.
The case was then appealed to the EAT by Mr Hargreaves who argued that the employer’s investigation was inadequate, given the significance and career-altering impact of the allegation. The employer had failed to disclose to the disciplinary panel evidence from potential witnesses who said they had seen nothing.
The EAT dismissed the appeal, holding that the Tribunal had correctly directed itself as to the higher standard of investigation that might be expected, given the very serious nature of the allegation. The Tribunal had been entitled to consider the reasonableness of the Respondent’s actions in light of the interaction between Mr Hargreaves and the pupil. In doing so, it had concluded that the Respondent had acted within the range of reasonable responses by taking no further action regarding the evidence of witnesses who would not have had a direct view of the incident, and who had said they had seen nothing.
In her ruling, EAT Judge Eady reported, “It did not follow that, because those individuals had seen nothing, nothing had happened”. It was found more likely than not that Mr Hargreaves had engaged in unreasonable physical conduct with the pupil.
This case highlights the importance of the investigation stage of a disciplinary process. It is vital that investigating officers consider what information is relevant and whether it is reasonable for certain information to be included.
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