Dismissing staff – practising fair dismissal

06 September 2021

Employers must act reasonably when considering dismissal

When considering dismissal, employers must not look solely at whether the employee committed an act of misconduct.  The test for fair dismissal also includes carrying out a reasonable procedure and determining that dismissal falls within the “range of reasonable responses” i.e., that the misconduct is sufficient to warrant dismissal.

The case of Buchholz v Geze UK Ltd

In Buchholz v Geze UK Ltd, a technical products manager working for a door, window and safety technology firm, set up lines of sherbet powder and a rolled up piece of paper bent into the shape of a straw on his desk to look like drugs as part of a prank.

It was found by a cleaner who showed the desk to the operations director.  He assured the cleaner that it probably a joke and the desk was cleared; however, he later retrieved the items from the bin and Mr Buchholz was asked to attend a meeting, followed by a disciplinary hearing at which he was dismissed.

Buchholz explained that a colleague had brought in the sherbet and spilled it, which had led to jokes about the “white powder”.  He had set his desk up to continue the joke but had forgotten about the cleaner, to whom he subsequently apologised.

The Tribunal found that no reasonable employer would have concluded that this warranted dismissal; it was foolish and insensitive but merited no more than a warning.

There had been no reputational damage caused to the company and everyone involved had understood that the set up was intended a joke. Mr Buchholz had 14 years’ unblemished service. In addition, the employer failed to follow a reasonable procedure as the disciplinary hearing was conducted by the investigating officer.

What this case means for employers

This case is a reminder that even where an employee has committed an act of misconduct, this does not necessarily render the dismissal fair. Employers must follow a reasonable process, and dismissal must be a reasonable response.

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