Case law: Employer investigating allegations of misconduct could ignore accounts of witnesses who saw nothing

Employers investigating allegations of misconduct could ignore witnesses who say they saw nothing even though, if the allegations were true, they might have been expected to have seen something, according to a recent ruling.

A teacher with a flawless record was accused of behaving violently towards a student. During the school’s investigation there were witnesses whose accounts of events supported the student’s allegations, but other witnesses said they had seen nothing. The school decided not to disclose the accounts of those who had seen nothing to the subsequent disciplinary panel. The panel dismissed the teacher.

He claimed unfair dismissal on grounds the disciplinary panel should have been given the accounts of the witnesses who had seen nothing because the allegations were career-changing and, if the alleged behaviour had actually taken place, those witnesses might reasonably have been expected to have noticed it. The fact they did not was evidence in his favour.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal disagreed. The Employment Tribunal had satisfied itself that the investigation was of a sufficiently high standard given the serious potential consequences to the employee. Its decision not to give the ‘saw nothing’ witness accounts to the panel because it considered they were not material was within the band of responses of a reasonable employer. Therefore the dismissal was fair.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Employers investigating allegations of misconduct may be able to ignore witnesses who saw nothing even if, were the allegations true, they might have been expected to have seen something

Case ref: Hargreaves v Manchester Grammar UKEAT/0048/18/DA

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