Failure to properly investigate resulted in unfair dismissal
An employee who worked night shifts as a security officer at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, was dismissed by his employer, Corps Security UK without notice on the grounds of gross misconduct, after more than 10 years of service following theft allegations but an employment tribunal has ruled that the “deficiencies” of the investigation leading to his dismissal were so great that the employer “could not have had a reasonable belief in the claimant’s guilt because of the unreasonable process which led to that belief”.
The employee’s role involved spending time at the control desk in the management office, as well as checking and locking up each department using a set of master keys. In August 2019, another security officer working at the hospital was handed a lost wallet containing cards and £80 in cash. She logged it in the lost property book, placed the wallet and the completed lost property form into a green transparent patient bag and placed it into another bag at the control desk in the management office. However, when the bag was opened the following Monday, it was discovered that the wallet was not in it.
Footage from security cameras covering the control desk was reviewed and the claimant was suspended with immediate effect and an investigation conducted. The view was taken that the CCTV appeared to show the claimant opening the property bag, taking the patient property bag out, hiding the contents then walking out of the control desk before later returning to the office and shredding paper and what appeared to be a card.
After being informed that he had been identified on the CCTV footage, the claimant said he wasn’t saying that it wasn’t him on the camera footage, but that he did not take the wallet or shred paperwork.
The tribunal noted that the claimant was not given the opportunity to view the footage or ask him to explain the actions he was seen undertaking on the footage.
The claimant was invited to a disciplinary hearing and provided with statements from various colleagues, including the security officer who found the wallet, and stills taken from the CCTV footage but not provided with the footage itself nor any opportunity to view it.
The hearing concentrated primarily on whether or not the claimant was the person in the footage. During that hearing, he admitted that it was him in the stills from the footage but maintained he did not take the wallet. He explained that his reason for using the shredder was that when he went to the toilet and took off his jacket, two cards fell out, prompting him to look through other cards in his wallet. When he found some that he no longer needed he disposed of them in the shredder.
No steps were taken to investigate further, and the employee was dismissed.
The tribunal ruled that during the investigatory stage, the employee was asked only generalised questions, and was not shown CCTV footage relied upon or the still photographs taken from it.
It was held that the employee had a “potentially fair reason for dismissal” in believing that the employee had committed theft, however he found “deficiencies in the extent and quality of the investigation conducted. A reasonable investigation would have sought to verify the claimant’s explanation for the actions seen on CCTV.” It was therefore judged that “the deficiencies in the respondent’s investigation made this dismissal unfair.”
This case highlights the importance for employers to be able to justify that they acted reasonably in dismissing an employee, especially in potentially career-ending situations of this nature. An important element of is conducting a thorough investigation, taking into account all evidence available and considering all explanations put forward by the employee that may explain their actions. A remedial hearing will be held to decide on the financial award.