A recent Employment Appeals Tribunal decision has confirmed an important principle of employment law: that in certain cases the dismissal of an employee without any procedure can be fair.
Generally speaking, unfair dismissal law requires employers to have both a “fair” reason for dismissal and to follow a “fair” dismissal procedure. There is an exception, however, where the employer contends – and can prove – that following a procedure would have been futile. This exception was successful in the recent case of Gallacher v Abellio Scotrail Limited.
The working relationship between Mrs Gallacher (a senior manager) and her own line manager broke down. Although the parties previously held two meetings to seek to resolve the disagreements, these were unsuccessful. Subsequently, during her annual appraisal, Mrs Gallacher was dismissed for lack of trust. Her claim for unfair dismissal failed as her employer was able to prove not only that a procedure would not have served any useful purpose, but also that it would have worsened the situation. This was a case where a continued good working relationship between Mrs Gallacher and her line manager was critical as the employer was going through a very difficult period. In addition, the evidence showed that Mrs Gallacher recognised the breakdown in relations herself and was not inclined to retrieve the situation.
The employment tribunal found the dismissal to be fair despite the absence of any procedure, and this was upheld by the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Although this case represents the exception from a well-established general rule, it serves as a helpful authority for cases where an employer has good grounds to believe that immediate termination of the employment, without adopting due process, is justified.
We would nevertheless recommend that you take specific legal advice on a case by case basis as each case will turn on its own particular facts and circumstances.