From informal complaint to P45 – can an employer dismiss an employee who raises multiple grievances? - Kuits Solicitors Manchester
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From informal complaint to P45 – can an employer dismiss an employee who raises multiple grievances?

From informal complaint to P45 – can an employer dismiss an employee who raises multiple grievances?

17th December 2021 - Published by Kuits Employment team

In the recent case of Hope v British Medical Association, the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision that the dismissal of an employee for raising numerous grievances against senior managers was fair.

The Facts

Mr Hope was employed by the BMA as a Senior Policy Adviser. During a period spanning just over 12 months, he raised numerous grievances against senior managers at the BMA which included allegations that:

  • management had been unfairly critical about the tone of one of his emails
  • he’d not been included in meetings he thought he should be
  • arbitrary deadlines had been applied for him to decide whether to pursue formal complaints
  • management had threatened him with disciplinary action

On each occasion, Mr Hope expressed a desire for his complaints to be considered informally per the BMA’s grievance procedure. When his complaints were not upheld he was given the opportunity to raise these formally and he declined to do so at that time, but reserved his right to do so at some future point. Understandably on receipt of the sixth grievance, the BMA advised Mr Hope that if his issues could not be resolved informally, they would move to the formal process and if his complaints were regarded as frivolous or vexatious it could result in disciplinary action. Mr Hope raised a further grievance about that threat of disciplinary action.

The BMA convened a formal grievance hearing. Mr Hope refused to attend and it went ahead in his absence, the BMA having considered it a reasonable instruction for him to attend the hearing. The grievances were dismissed and Mr Hope was found to have abused the process and conducted himself in a frivolous, vexatious, disrespectful and insubordinate manner. In addition, it was found that his conduct had led to a breakdown in working relationships. As a result, a disciplinary hearing was held and Mr Hope was dismissed for gross misconduct and paid in lieu of his notice period. His appeal against dismissal was rejected and he brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal decision

The Tribunal concluded that Mr Hope had been dismissed because of his conduct which is a potentially fair reason under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). It found that the BMA was entitled to conclude that Mr Hope’s conduct in raising multiple grievances and wanting to leave open the possibility to pursue these formally was vexatious and unreasonable. Given those findings, it concluded that dismissal was a fair sanction in the circumstances and dismissed his complaint of unfair dismissal. Mr Hope appealed that decision.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal decision

Mr Hope alleged that the finding of gross misconduct was not sustainable on the basis that his conduct was neither a deliberate and wilful contradiction of his terms of employment, nor an act of gross negligence. The EAT disagreed and held that under the ERA the simple consideration is whether the employer acted reasonably in treating the employee’s conduct as a sufficient reason for dismissing the employee. There was no requirement to determine whether the conduct amounted to gross misconduct.

The EAT made it clear that grievance procedures are there to resolve concerns and are not a “repository for complaints that can then be left unresolved and capable of being resurrected at any time at the behest of the employee”.

What does this mean in practice for employers?

Employees who bring multiple grievances or who raise complaints informally and refuse to engage in the process are inevitably difficult to deal with and can take up significant amounts of management time with no prospect of resolution. This judgment gives some comfort to employers when faced with that situation that they can take action against the employee. However, employers need to exercise caution and should not dismiss employees who raise multiple grievances without following a fair process or properly considering the validity or otherwise of the complaints and the reasons for non-compliance with the process. Cases such as this tend to turn on their own facts and ultimately the fairness of the decision to dismiss will be dependent on the employer being able to evidence that it was reasonable to dismiss in all of the circumstances.

Get in touch with an Employment Law advisor today

If you are an employer looking to start proceedings to dismiss an employee, please contact Senior Associate Claire Hollins on 0161 503 2992 or email clairehollins@kuits.com

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