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Dental Practice Manager Triumphs in Unfair Dismissal Claim

In a warning to employers that a refusal to allow an employee to be accompanied by a friend or adviser during disciplinary hearings can be viewed as unreasonable, a dental practice manager has triumphed in her constructive unfair dismissal claim and been awarded more than £9,000 compensation.

The manager was suspended after being accused of showing favouritism towards another employee and failing to record the latter’s sickness absences.  Her request for a companion at a disciplinary hearing was rejected and the proceedings had ‘ended in disarray’. She was subsequently informed that if she did not attend a re-arranged hearing, alone, her pay would be stopped.

She subsequently went off sick and eventually resigned by letter. An employment tribunal found that she had been constructively dismissed unfairly and awarded her a basic award of £5,000 and a compensatory award of £4,205. The tribunal found that, by its actions, the employer had breached the term of trust and confidence implicit in the manager’s employment contract.

In dismissing the employer’s appeal against that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) rejected arguments that the tribunal had failed to analyse the employer’s subjective intentions and had reached a perverse conclusion. It upheld the tribunal’s ruling that the disciplinary process had been ‘handled very badly’.

Noting the gravity of the allegations and the manager’s 13 years of unblemished service to her employer and its TUPE predecessor, the EAT found that the employer had acted unreasonably in refusing to allow her to be accompanied at the hearing. The failure to give her an opportunity to explain herself at an investigatory interview and the threat to stop her pay were also unreasonable in the circumstances.