Guidance from EAT on standard of investigation required by school on dismissal of staff

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09 November, 2018

Mr Hargreaves ('the Claimant') was a teacher of Art and Design from 1 September 2005 until 17 June 2016 at the respondent school ("the Respondent"). He had an unblemished record until it was alleged that he had grabbed a pupil, pushed him against the wall and put his fingers to the pupil's throat. He was dismissed by a disciplinary panel following an investigation, and an employment tribunal ('ET') found the dismissal fair.

The Claimant then appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal ("EAT"), contending the school's investigation was inadequate given the career-changing impact of the allegation, and that the school had failed to disclose to the disciplinary panel evidence from potential witnesses who had said they had seen nothing. The Claimant argued that given the career-changing impact of the allegation, the Respondent's investigation was inadequate. More than the mere loss of a particular employment was in issue. The dismissal had a devastating effect personally, financially, and professionally and his, "hard-won career was potentially now in ruins."

The EAT dismissed the appeal confirming that the ET had correctly directed itself as to the higher standard of investigation that might be expected, given the very serious nature of the allegation. It confirmed that the school was within the band of 'reasonable responses' to decide not to put forward details about interviews with those who had seen nothing. It did not follow that, because those individuals had seen nothing, nothing had happened. The ET had permissibly concluded the employer had reasonably formed the view that the excluded evidence was immaterial and could not assist. The ET was entitled to conclude the school had conducted a fair investigation and that the dismissal was not unfair.

As for the fact that the Claimant had not himself taken the point during the internal process, whilst this was not an irrelevant consideration, it was the Respondent's obligation to ensure that there was a fair investigation.

As the Respondent was bound to do, it had also referred the Claimant's case to the

National College of Teaching and Leadership ("NCTL") and to the Disclosure and Barring

Service ("DBS"). The NCTL notified the Respondent that it considered matters had been dealt with appropriately at local level and any further action would be disproportionate. The DBS concluded that it was not appropriate to include the Claimant on the barred list.

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