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Dismissal for raising vexatious grievances was fair

Posted On: [22/12/2021]

In Hope v British Medical Association, Mr Hope was employed by the BMA as a Senior Policy Adviser from June 2014 until his dismissal for gross misconduct on 24 May 2019. He raised a number of grievances against his line manager and senior managers. The grievances could not be resolved informally because Mr Hope wanted to discuss his grievances with his line manager who had no authority to resolve the issues. Mr Hope then refused to progress his grievances to the formal stage or withdraw his grievances. He refused to attend a grievance hearing, which proceeded in his absence. Ultimately his grievances were not upheld.

The BMA dismissed him for gross misconduct on the grounds that he had submitted numerous, frivolous grievances, failed to follow reasonable management instructions in relation to attendance at meetings, and there was a fundamental breakdown of the working relationship between Mr Hope and senior management.

Mr Hope made a claim in the Employment Tribunal (ET) for unfair dismissal, and lost his case. The ET agreed with the BMA that his behaviour throughout the grievance process was frivolous and vexatious. Instigating the grievance process and then not following through was also an abuse of process.

Mr Hope then appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) on the grounds that his behaviour was not gross misconduct and his failure to attend the grievance hearing, could not reasonably be considered a disciplinary matter, and that the ET’s analysis of fairness overall was contaminated and unsafe. The EAT did not accept his submissions and agreed with the ET that Mr Hope’s dismissal was fair. They said that the real question is the statutory one of whether the employer acted reasonably in all the circumstances in treating the conduct as sufficient reason to dismiss. Whether an employee is in breach of contractual obligations is a potentially relevant consideration, but it is merely one of the circumstances to be taken into account in considering whether the dismissal was fair or unfair within the meaning of s98(4) Employment Rights Act 1996.

The lesson here is that you must behave reasonably when you raise a grievance. Additionally, the ACAS Code applies to employees, just as it does to employers. If you do not act in accordance with policy or the ACAS Code, it is likely that your dismissal would be deemed to be fair or you could have up to 25% deducted from your compensation if you win.