Unfair Dismissal Claims – The Role of the Tribunal

March 18, 2014

Unfair Dismissal Claims – The Role of the Tribunal

In Harding v Cancer Research UK Limited, a former charity worker has failed in his long-running unfair dismissal claim after the Court of Appeal ruled that his case was based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the law.

Mr Harding worked as a van driver for Cancer Research UK Limited. In December 2006, he was given a final written warning for gross misconduct in respect of his poor driving. The warning was to remain in force for 12 months. In August 2007, a member of the public complained to the charity that one of its drivers had driven dangerously and ‘almost killed’ him. Following an internal investigation, Cancer Research UK found that Mr Harding – despite his vehement denials – had been behind the wheel at the relevant time and dismissed him on grounds of gross misconduct.

Adamant that he was elsewhere at the time and that it was a case of mistaken identity, Mr Harding brought a claim for unfair dismissal. An Employment Judge initially upheld his claim, but that decision was later overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Following a reconsideration before an experienced three-person Employment Tribunal (ET), his claim was dismissed and the EAT subsequently rejected his challenge to that decision.

In its ruling, the EAT noted that it was not the ET’s task to decide whether Mr Harding was or was not responsible for the dangerous driving alleged, but whether his employer had reasonable grounds for believing that he was. That, observed the EAT, was a classic demonstration of a limitation on the ET’s role that so often proved ‘so difficult for an ordinary working person to understand or to accept’.

In dismissing Mr Harding’s appeal against that decision, the Court of Appeal found that the ET had impeccably directed itself on the law. Cancer Research UK had carried out a reasonable investigation and had held an honest belief that it had reasonable grounds for the finding of misconduct. The ET had also found that his dismissal was the response of a reasonable employer.

Although Mr Harding said that he would ‘go to his grave’ insisting that he was not driving the van at the relevant time, the Court noted that that was not the issue and found that his appeal had no prospect of success. Judge McMullen said, “I acknowledge that he plainly feels strongly about what happened and I do not question his good faith. However, there is absolutely nothing that this court can do for him as a matter of law.”