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Unfairly Dismissed Teacher Wins Re-Engagement Order

In circumstances where an education provider was directed by an employment tribunal to re-engage an unfairly dismissed teacher, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has underlined that such a course may in certain circumstances be preferable to an award of compensatory damages.

A company that specialises in taking over and turning round failing schools had dismissed the senior maths teacher on disputed grounds that he had exhibited an overly confrontational attitude towards pupils. The company accepted that he had been unfairly dismissed and was ordered by an employment tribunal to re-engage him at another school that it operated at the other end of the country.

In challenging that decision, the company argued that the essential bond of trust and confidence between employer and employee had broken down to the extent that re-engagement was not practicable. It was submitted, inter alia, that the teacher had, subsequent to his dismissal, engaged in ‘aggressive correspondence’ with the company, making offensive and untrue allegations against members of its staff.

However, in dismissing the company’s appeal, the EAT emphasised that, by section 115 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, Parliament had made it clear that, where an unfairly dismissed employee has expressed a preference to be reinstated or re-engaged, employment tribunals should give primary consideration to such a course.

The EAT accepted that the teacher may have resorted to ‘hyperbolic language’ in the wake of his dismissal and proceeded on the assumption that the allegations that he had made against the company’s staff were ill-founded. However, it concluded that it was practicable for him to be re-engaged at a far distant school, with wholly new colleagues, where he would have ‘no history to live down’.

The employment tribunal ‘may or may not have been over-optimistic’ about the teacher’s future in the company’s employ but it had carefully considered the opposing arguments and its conclusion could not be described as perverse.