Employee’s length of service irrelevant for wrongful dismissal claims
An employee’s length of service is irrelevant when deciding if they were wrongfully dismissed.
Employee dismissed for serious safety breach
In East Coast Main Line Company Ltd v Cameron, Mr Cameron started employment with East Coast Main Line Company Limited (“East Coast”) in 1981. He was employed as a shunter. He was investigated following a serious safety incident in 2015. He authorised a train departure when a driver, standing between this train and his own, was brushed by the train.
An investigation found Mr Cameron had failed to carry out adequate safety checks. Following a disciplinary hearing, East Coast summarily dismissed him on 11 April 2016. He brought claims for discrimination and unfair dismissal, as well as for wrongful dismissal claim (claiming loss of notice pay).
Employment tribunal rules dismissal was wrongful
Mr Cameron succeeded in his wrongful dismissal claim. One of the factors the employment tribunal took into account in deciding that East Coast had not been entitled to dismiss him summarily was Mr Cameron’s lengthy service.
East Coast appealed.
Employment Appeal Tribunal disagrees
The Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the tribunal’s decision. Mr Cameron’s length of service was not relevant to whether his dismissal was wrongful i.e. to whether he had acted in serious breach of contract. The tribunal should not have taken this into account. The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided East Coast had been entitled to dismiss Mr Cameron summarily. His wrongful dismissal claim therefore failed.
A wrongful dismissal claim is a claim for breach of contract. A tribunal needs to assess, on the balance of probabilities, whether the employee’s conduct is so serious that it amounts to a repudiatory breach of contract entitling the employer to dismiss without notice. The question is whether the conduct undermines trust and confidence to such an extent that the employer should no longer be required to retain the employee in employment. Unlike in an unfair dismissal claim (where length of service is often very relevant to whether it is fair to dismiss), factors such as length of service are irrelevant when considering whether an employee has acted in repudiatory breach of contract.
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