Case law: Physical violence at work does not automatically justify dismissal without notice

Employers should not assume that physical violence by an employee always justifies dismissal without notice. They should carry out a fair and reasonable investigation taking into account all the circumstances, including whether the employer has been consistent, and the employee's length of service, following a recent ruling.

An employee of 42 years' standing lost his temper during a minor disagreement described by a manager as a 'handbags' moment, and grabbed an apprentice by the collar. He apologised the next day. The manager said he would not take disciplinary action, but would write a 'letter of concern' to the employee under an informal procedure. He sent a copy of the proposed letter to the employer's HR department.

However, the employer's formal disciplinary procedure said employees could be dismissed without notice (or payment in lieu of notice) in cases of gross misconduct, and these included cases involving physical violence. The HR department therefore decided to launch a formal investigation, suspended the employee and warned him one outcome could be dismissal without notice. There was a disciplinary hearing and he was dismissed without notice. He claimed unfair dismissal, breach of contract, and pay in lieu of notice.

The Employment Tribunal found that the employer's investigation was not within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer in all the circumstances. No reasonable employer would have dismissed the employee in the circumstances, especially given his 42 years of service. However, it ruled that he had contributed 50 per cent towards his own dismissal.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed: whilst there had been physical violence, neither the circumstances - including the fact the employer originally said it was going to take no action against the employee - nor the employee's long service had been properly taken into account.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Employers should not assume that physical violence by an employee always justifies dismissal without notice, but should carry out a fair and reasonable investigation, taking into account all the circumstances, including whether the employer has been consistent and the employee's length of service.

Case ref: Arnold Clark Automobiles Ltd v Spoor UKEAT/0170/16/DA

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