A recent employment law case has highlighted the fact that, no matter how unlikely an employee’s explanation for their misconduct might seem, it must still be investigated thoroughly in order to avoid a later finding of unfair dismissal.
Mr Dickson had been employed by his local city council for 28 years. His manager received a complaint from members of a youth group who visited the computer room in the school where Mr Dickson worked. They saw him accessing pornography. Two days after the complaint was made, Mr Dickson was suspended and an internal investigation commenced.
Mr Dickson stated that he had no recollection of the alleged event. He explained that, if the incident had happened, then it must have been as a result of a hypoglycaemic episode brought on by his diabetes.
During such an episode, diabetics can apparently behave quite out of character. The also may have no recollection of their actions after the episode has passed.
At the time of the event, Mr Dickson’s diabetes was not well controlled. Shortly after the incident, he had to have three toes amputated as a result of his condition, and he discovered that his insulin prescription was incorrect. He also had a note from his occupational health doctor which actually suggested this as an explanation for his behaviour.
At his disciplinary hearing, however, Mr Dickson’s manager gave no credibility to this explanation, and Mr Dickson was consequently sacked. He then made a claim for unfair dismissal, which he won – the council appealed, and the case was heard by an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
The EAT agreed with the original tribunal’s decision that the manager did not have reasonable grounds for believing that Mr Dickson was guilty of the misconduct charge. His explanation had been plausible, but had not been taken seriously.
The EAT ruled that: “scepticism is one thing, and a refusal to seriously consider the explanation proffered is another”. Rather than rejecting the explanation out of hand, the manager should have consulted someone who knows more about the condition than he did such as a specialist doctor in this area.