The recent case of Z v
A has provided valuable guidance to employers when relying on “some other
substantial reason” (SOSR) as grounds for dismissal.
In Z v A, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that the
dismissal of a school caretaker in response to unproven allegations of historical
sex abuse was unfair. In coming to this conclusion, the EAT emphasised that an
employer would not be acting reasonably if it took into account an uncritical
view of the information disclosed to it about allegations of abuse.
Essentially, the employer must be prepared to make its
own enquiries to test the information it has received. The employer must also
pay proper attention to following its own dismissal procedure when considering
a dismissal for SOSR, even if there has been a breakdown in trust and
confidence. In this case, the employer relied on notes from a meeting held
almost a year previously and the employee had not been given the chance to
consider these notes until the disciplinary hearing.
The EAT confirmed an approach taken by the Court of
Appeal in another case, Leach v Ofcom, which stated that SOSR was not to be
used as a convenient label to stick on any situation where an employer feels
let down or a conduct reason is not available or appropriate.
When dismissing an employee for SOSR, it is also
important for the employer to consider the application of the Acas Code of
Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (the Code).
What is clear from Z
v A is that the employer must properly investigate the allegations and information
that has been disclosed. In addition, an employer must follow a fair procedure
when contemplating a dismissal for SOSR, even if it believes there has been a
breakdown in trust and confidence. Best advice is that, where there is any doubt
about whether the Code applies, an employer should assume that it does.