Employment: Disciplinary Investigations

Where an employee is facing a very serious allegation of misconduct, the employer’s investigation into the allegation needs to be carried out thoroughly and carefully.
In a recent case at an airport, an employee was accused of stealing from the duty free shop after he walked outside the store boundary to speak to a colleague who had beckoned him from the queue that he had been standing in to pay for the items that he was holding in his hand. The manager investigating the allegation of shoplifting interviewed both the store manager and the employee (who had an unblemished disciplinary record) but he failed to interview a sales assistant who had told the store manager that she had seen the employee deliberately conceal the duty free items under his coat, an allegation that the employee strenuously denied. The investigating manager also failed to review the CCTV footage that was available – instead, the investigating manager decided that the employee’s act of walking outside the store boundary meant he was not going to pay for the items that he had in his hand and so he was dismissed for dishonest conduct. The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that the employer’s decision to dismiss the employee was wrong. The key allegation that the employee had concealed the items under his coat went to the heart of the dishonesty allegation – that allegation had not been fully explored by the employer and as such the decision to dismiss him was wrong.
The case shows how important it is to carry out a thorough investigation, particularly where allegations of criminal conduct or dishonesty are involved, before a decision to dismiss is reached. An employer who fails to investigate evidence which may support or disprove a serious allegation against an employee does so at great risk.