Do you have to meet with an employee to dismiss?

Posted on August 11th, 2023

It is usual, during disciplinary proceedings, to arrange a disciplinary hearing so an employee has the opportunity to make representations on their case. However, is it reasonable to dismiss based on a paper consideration and in the absence of a hearing? The case of Charalambous v National Bank of Greece considered this issue.

Ms Charalambous worked for the National Bank of Greece as a relationship manager. The incident which led to Ms Charalambous’s dismissal related to an email she had sent to the manager of the bank’s London office containing an attachment with included highly confidential information, namely a spreadsheet file of private client information. The email was copied to her trade union representative and her solicitor who were not employees of the bank. It was later discovered that she had also forwarded the email to her personal email account and copied in her brother. She was subsequently suspended pending an investigation. The following day, the FCA was notified that there had been a data breach.

Summarily dismissed by letter

A disciplinary hearing took place and was considered by another manager, although the meeting had been described more in the nature of a further investigatory meeting. The conduct of the disciplinary process was then passed back to the manager of the London office who, by letter dated 4 March 2019, summarily dismissed Ms Charalambous. The employment tribunal (ET) noted that the bank’s handbook required that a dismissal should be determined by the country manager, that is, by the manager of the London office.

Dismissal upheld on appeal

Ms Charalambous appealed and an appeal hearing was arranged and heard by the bank’s HR director. He decided to uphold the original decision to dismiss.

Claim for unfair dismissal

Ms Charalambous brought claims within the ET, including a claim for unfair dismissal. The tribunal found that the procedure was within a range of reasonable responses even though the manager who took the decision to dismiss did not conduct the disciplinary hearing himself.

Employment appeal tribunal

Ms Charalambous appealed based on the fact her dismissal had been procedurally unfair. A previous case of Budgen & Co v Thomas had established that if a dismissing manager didn’t meet the employee, then dismissal was on the face of it unfair. However, the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) rejected this argument. The EAT was satisfied that when looking at the procedure adopted by the bank as a whole, it found that any procedural unfairness in the initial decision to dismiss was sufficiently addressed by the internal appeal, which did involve a meeting between Ms Charalambous and the decision-maker. The EAT further noted that a fair disciplinary process would usually involve one manager carrying out an investigation and the disciplinary hearing being conducted by a separate individual.

Advice to schools

It is important to note that the decision above was made on the particular facts of the case. Schools should follow their own disciplinary policy and procedure to ensure a fair and reasonable process takes place. Despite the above dismissal being based on a paper exercise, employees should be invited to a disciplinary hearing to have their case considered in full and have the opportunity to explain their position before a panel of governors. Appeal hearings should also take place where requested by the employee and again in accordance with the procedure in place at the school. This will avoid any arguments for procedural unfairness and ensure any such arguments can be rigorously defended by the school.

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