Unfair dismissal: Tribunal rules in employee’s favour following an inadequate investigation

An employment tribunal has ruled that a hairdresser and beauty therapist was unfairly dismissed after her employer failed to properly identify complaints about her behaviour.

The tribunal found that the employer had already made up their mind about the outcome of the investigation prior to it commencing.

Mrs Lovelady was an employee at Daniel James Hair and Beauty in Colwyn Bay from March 2016 until she was dismissed in February 2019.

The tribunal was told that employees had reported Ms Lovelady as “offensive in her attitude” and “a bit of a bully”. It was also claimed that she engaged in inappropriate discussions with customers.

But the tribunal found that it did not believe that a “reasonably thorough and fair investigation” had been undertaken, with evidence consisting of opinion and “hearsay”.

The salon owner, Mrs Fowler, had informal conversations with Ms Lovelady on three occasions in 2018 regarding her behaviour with colleagues and in front of customers, but none of these amounted to a warning or a formal disciplinary hearing.

One employee reported to Mrs Fowler that Lovelady had put pressure on them to reduce working hours for her benefit after she returned from maternity leave and was not able to work additional hours because the business had lost a number of customers.

Further reports were made by employees that Lovelady was creating a “negative atmosphere”, with Fowler stating in WhatsApp message that she was “going to tackle the problem” regarding Lovelady not being “friendly or professional”.

Fowler then met with Lovelady and gave written notice that she was suspended pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct. The investigation was concluded four days later, and Lovelady was invited to a meeting.

A dismissal letter was then sent to Lovelady on 19 February and her employment was terminated the following day.

The tribunal ruled that Fowler should pay £524.44 in damages to Ms Lovelady, which was a reduced amount because Lovelady’s conduct put her at risk of a fair dismissal.

David Scott, Senior Associate Solicitor at Hethertons Solicitors, said: “This case highlights the need to engage in a reasonable investigation, have proper records of complaints made and to approach the disciplinary process with an open mind”.

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