- Hope v British Medical Association – Can an employer dismiss an employee for raising frivolous and vexatious grievances?
Hope v British Medical Association – Can an employer dismiss an employee for raising frivolous and vexatious grievances?
Hope v British Medical Association – Can an employer dismiss an employee for raising frivolous and vexatious grievances?27th May 2022 - Published by Kuits Employment Team
The Claimant, Mr Hope, brought numerous grievances against senior managers, which included complaints that he had not been invited to meetings that he thought he should be attending. These complaints could not be resolved informally and so the British Medical Association (‘BMA’) asked Mr Hope to either raise the complaints through their formal grievance procedure or withdraw them. He refused to do either, however he insisted that he retained the right to do so should he wish. The BMA fixed a grievance hearing and informed Mr Hope that his attendance was a reasonable instruction, however he failed to attend the hearing. The hearing proceeded in his absence and the grievances were not upheld. The BMA considered Mr Hope’s conduct to amount to gross misconduct in that he had brought numerous vexatious and frivolous grievances and had refused to comply with a reasonable management instruction to attend the meeting. The BMA therefore dismissed Mr Hope.
In response, Mr Hope brought a claim for unfair dismissal against the BMA, however the Employment Tribunal found that his dismissal was fair and was within the band of reasonable responses of a similarly sized and resourced employer in the circumstances. Mr Hope appealed this decision, alleging that the Tribunal had made an error by failing to consider whether his conduct could amount to gross misconduct in the contractual sense.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal. The Tribunal held that when considering all the circumstances in relation to an employee’s dismissal, it may be relevant to consider if the employee’s conduct involved a breach of contract constituting gross misconduct, however this is only a factor to consider, it is not necessarily required. It was held that there was no need to demonstrate that gross misconduct took place in the exact form defined in the contract and a contractual analysis was not necessary, rather the real question was whether the BMA acted reasonably in all the circumstances in treating the employee’s conduct as a sufficient reason to dismiss, which the Tribunal did in this instance.
This case is likely to be of comfort to employers as it suggests that an employee doesn’t have to breach their contract for their conduct to warrant a fair dismissal. The case demonstrates that the employee has a responsibility to carry out their obligations in the grievance process, failing which their actions could be viewed as vexatious and therefore amounting to conduct capable of dismissal. However, It is important to note that in this case, the employee was described as treating the grievance process “as a shield” and his misuse of the process undermined the working relationship of trust and confidence between both the parties. The case is therefore very fact-specific and the decision should be viewed in this context. Whilst the Employment Tribunal in this instance held that a dismissal for gross misconduct does not have to follow the exact form as defined in the contract, it is still good practice for employers to set out the ways in which gross misconduct can arise by way of a Disciplinary and Grievance policy.
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