In Hope v British Medical Association, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that a dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct relating to the raising of multiple vexatious grievances was fair.
Mr Hope was employed by the British Medical Association (BMA) as a senior policy adviser. He raised several grievances against senior colleagues, including about them failing to involve him in meetings which he thought he should attend. He wanted to discuss the issues with his line manager informally, but they did not have the authority to deal with the matter as it concerned the decisions of more senior staff members. He refused to raise the grievances formally but also refused to withdraw them. The BMA invited him to a formal grievance meeting but he did not attend. The meeting went ahead in his absence and his grievances were not upheld. BMA felt that the grievances raised were vexatious and frivolous and an abuse of the grievance process. For this reason, and his failure to attend the grievance meeting, they initiated disciplinary proceedings and dismissed him for gross misconduct. Mr Hope issued an unfair dismissal claim which was unsuccessful. The Tribunal considered BMA’s conclusion that the grievances were vexatious and the disciplinary proceedings which resulted were reasonable, as was his dismissal.
Mr Hope appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) on a number of grounds, including that his actions did not amount to gross misconduct such that it was a fundamental breach of contract.
The EAT dismissed the appeal, holding that the Tribunal was entitled to find BMA had acted reasonably in treating the reason for dismissal, namely the conduct of Mr Hope, as a sufficient reason to dismiss in all the circumstances. It held that whether or not an employee was in breach of contract was a relevant consideration, but not the only consideration that should be taken into account. The EAT noted that conduct was a fair reason for dismissal and a key consideration in this case was Mr Hope not wanting to progress or withdraw the grievances and the EAT felt that conduct for these purposes did not have to be reprehensible or culpable.
What this means for employers
This case shows that in circumstances where employers are faced with multiple and or vexatious grievances, they may be able to reasonably conclude that such conduct amounts to gross misconduct warranting dismissal. Whilst each case will turn on its own facts, it will be of some comfort to employers who find themselves in a similar situation.
It is important to note that if an employee has brought a number of complaints in the past, this is not sufficient grounds for refusing to consider a grievance. The Grievance Policy should be followed however employers may decide to limit the scope of the complaint to what is reasonable and relevant, and to those issues that have not been considered previously. Where a situation arises such that there are persistent grievances between particular employees, employers could try alternative routes to resolve underlying issues such as workplace mediation.
For more information on how to ensure a fair process when dealing with grievances, please contact a member of the Employment Team.