02 February, 2015
The recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in Old v. Palace Fields Primary Academy reviewed the procedural fairness in the dismissal of a teacher who had given 21 years service to her school.
It was alleged that Mrs Old encouraged the bullying of a pupil with special needs by inviting a number of pupils to view an image of the pupil which had been defaced with the use an offensive term. Mrs Old denied this allegation, but was ultimately dismissed following a conflicting account of event being given by a teaching assistant.
The Employment Tribunal at first instance decided that the dismissal was a fair one, finding no procedural shortcomings. On appeal, Mrs Old's representatives raised two successful arguments relating to the procedural fairness of the School's investigation.
Firstly, Mrs Old's representatives directed the appeals judge to consider the fairness of the School's actions in neglecting to disclose two witness statements from pupils (aged 10-11) during the disciplinary process. On appeal, the judge considered that there was an obligation on the School to disclose material to Mrs Old which may support her case.
The second argument related to the minutes of interviews between the Head and Mrs Old. Mrs Old was informed that the minutes would not form part of the disciplinary panel's deliberations. Ultimately, the disciplinary panel did review the minutes which contributed to their conclusion. On appeal, the judge considered that there had been a failing in not permitting Mrs Old to comment on these minutes.
Whilst Mrs Old's appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal was successful, the matter has been referred back to the Employment Tribunal to reconsider their determination on the procedural fairness of the dismissal.
This case serves to highlight the importance of procedural fairness in dealing with disciplinary issues. Employers should be aware of the need to handle disciplinary situations in a fair manner, providing an employee with the opportunity to consider and comment on key pieces of evidence.