Zero tolerance dismissal was unfair

Posted: 24th January 2017

WorkersEmployers are fully entitled to take a very dim view of violence in the workplace – but, when considering what action to take, each case must be considered on its own facts. In one case, an employee who lost his job following an office incident succeeded in his unfair dismissal claim.

Mr Spoor, who had worked for the car dealership, Arnold Clark Automobiles Ltd, for 42 years, confronted an apprentice, Mr Chapman, following a disagreement over a faulty printer. Mr Spoor suggested that the paper draw should be opened to see if the paper had jammed. Mr Chapman did not agree and Mr Spoor momentarily lost his temper.

The claimant admitted having grabbed Mr Chapman in the collar area, but denied that he had taken him by the throat. After he apologised, shook hands and admitted that he was in the wrong. Mr Spoor was initially informed that no formal disciplinary action would be taken against him.

The latter decision was, however, later reversed and, following disciplinary action, Mr Spoor was dismissed for gross misconduct in relation to physical violence. The disciplinary panel stated that the company had a zero tolerance policy in respect of violence and that the circumstances of the incident, and his long and unblemished service record, were irrelevant.

In upholding his unfair dismissal and breach of contract claims, an Employment Tribunal found that his dismissal fell outside the range of reasonable responses to his wrongdoing. No reasonable employer would have dismissed him, having proper regard to all the circumstances and his clean record.

In ruling on Arnold Clark's challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal accepted that Mr Spoor's behaviour amounted to gross misconduct. However, the dismissal was unfair because the company proceeded on the basis of a purported zero tolerance policy without taking account of the individual circumstances of the case. The amount of the Mr Spoor’s compensation, which would be reduced by 50 per cent to take account of his own contributory fault, remained to be assessed.