Fair dismissal for bringing grievances
Posted on 4th April 2022 at 14:19
In a word, maybe. And that may give some initial comfort to employers who are only too aware that they omit a procedural step at their peril. Even when faced with a serially aggrieved employee whose knowledge of workplace rights may not go hand in hand with dedication to workplace productivity, or indeed workplace harmony.
But let’s not get too excited. Let’s have a look at how one Mr M. Hope failed to convince the Employment Appeal Tribunal that his bringing of seven grievances against the British Medical Association in just over a year was not gross misconduct justifying his dismissal.
In Hope v BMA, reported in 2021, the seven grievances came under scrutiny. It was noted that Mr Hope had refused to progress any of them beyond informal discussions; having so chosen, refused to withdraw any of them; and refused to comply with a reasonable instruction to attend a formal grievance meeting that the BMA eventually decided to arrange. Having formally dismissed the grievance tabled for discussion at that meeting, the BMA came to the view that Mr Hope’s overall conduct had been “frivolous, vexatious, disrespectful and insubordinate”. It decided to call him to a disciplinary meeting to address this behaviour, and the perceived fundamental breakdown of the working relationship. He was dismissed for gross misconduct.
The EAT appeal focused largely on a technical debate over contract terms. This proved academic. The EAT President reaffirmed that by reference to the long established principles – honest belief, reasonable grounds, sufficient investigation – Mr Hope’s conduct was a sufficient reason to dismiss in all the circumstances.
Looking more closely at the judgment, we find that after Mr Hope had lodged his fifth grievance, the BMA decided enough was enough. It warned him that if he persisted with grievances about the issue in question, this may be treated as a disciplinary matter. He ignored the warning and presented two more in less than a month. What if he had respected the warning and left his campaign at the fifth grievance? What if he had attended the formal grievance meeting to which he had been reasonably summoned? And what if he had actively pursued all of his grievances to formal conclusions – some of which he may have welcomed, some not – rather than give the impression that he deliberately wanted them to hang over the BMA indefinitely? He might still be their employee.
What, then, for an employer facing what it might like to describe as a confounded nuisance with a permanently aggrieved aura, but dare not do so? Just remember that a grievance, or indeed a series of grievances, would be unlikely to cross the disciplinary boundary without something more. Put down markers – insist that grievances are seen through to a close, and use the warnings process if they are being overdone. If this does not cure the obsession, fair dismissal may be within reach.
Have you any concern about how best to handle grievances, or how to stop misuse of grievance procedure? Get in touch.
Share this post: