Unfair Dismissal – Shock on Coronation Street


As if Carla doesn’t have enough trouble right now with her huge debts from gambling, she’s only gone and fired Sally Webster. Even Carla must realise nowadays that she needs a lesson in employment law, shouting in Sally’s face “So sue me” when Sally expressed her shock at being dismissed.

For those of you who may have missed the episode on 07 August 2015, Carla fired Sally after she found her snooping on Carla’s computer and looking at the accounts. Whilst Sally was employed as Carla’s PA, it appeared that viewing the accounts was not within Sally’s duties and Carla believed that it was paramount to gross misconduct justifying summary dismissal.

The big question is whether there is a remedy available to Sally against Carla?

Unfair dismissal

 Naturally you might immediately suspect that Sally is the victim of unfair dismissal. To be eligible to claim unfair dismissal, Sally would have to show that:

  1. 1 she was an employee;
  2. she had been dismissed;
  3. had worked there for the qualifying period of at least two continuous years; and
  4. either that there was no fair reason for the dismissal and/or the dismissal was not fair in all the circumstances.

Fair reason?

From the circumstances, Carla may have a potentially fair reason to dismiss Sally, that being gross misconduct in accessing the company accounts. Was Sally aware that she was prohibited from viewing the confidential information and/or is this detailed within the disciplinary procedure (staff handbook?) that this could amount to misconduct? Most employers will have a list of examples of unacceptable behaviour that they consider to be misconduct in their employment contracts or staff handbooks.

Fair in all the circumstances?

If Carla was able to prove that it was a fair reason to dismiss Sally, the Employment Tribunal will look at whether the dismissal was fair in all the circumstances:

  1. Was the decision to dismiss fair? Was the decision to dismiss Sally within the range of reasonable responses, i.e. could a lesser sanction have sufficed? Did Carla take into account Sally’s (long) history of employment at Underworld? The Tribunal will look at whether Carla acted reasonably when she chose to dismiss Sally.
  2. Did the employer follow a fair procedure? The simple answer is no. Carla dismissed Sally in breach of the ACAS code, there was no investigation, disciplinary meeting and she has (so far anyway) failed to advise Sally of her right to appeal. By failing to follow the ACAS code, Carla has left herself wide open to an increase of 25% on any compensatory award for failing to follow the code.

Well, does she have a claim?

Despite any arguments Carla may have in defence as to there being a fair reason for the dismissal, it is the view of this Coronation Street fan that Sally was dismissed unfairly as Carla failed to follow a fair disciplinary procedure.

However, should the Tribunal find that even if a correct procedure had still been followed, Sally would still have been dismissed, they can award a Polkey deduction (which can be up to 100%) to reflect the chance that she would have been dismissed in any event and that Carla’s procedural errors made no difference to the outcome.

So what should she do next?

Sally will have to act quickly as she only has three months less a day to lodge a claim at the Tribunal. To issue a claim for unfair dismissal there is also a Tribunal fee of £250 (subject to any remission claims). However, before she can lodge a claim she would first have to notify ACAS within the above timeframe that she intends to make a claim. ACAS will then offer Sally the opportunity to engage in early conciliation to attempt to settle the claim without resorting to issuing a claim.  Any time spent in early conciliation will be added to the deadline to issue a claim.

If you have any questions about unfair dismissal, please give our employment department a call on 0113 244 9931.

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