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Admissions are no substitute for disciplinary investigation

Posted on 29th July 2009
Case law

The EAT has found the dismissal of an employee unfair even though the employee admitted the behaviour relied on by the employer.

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As Compass Group had not investigated Miss Okoro's contention that she had taken the iPod as a practical joke, it could not be said that she had committed theft

Compass Group v Okoro (EAT)

Background

The employee, Miss Okoro, had taken an iPod nano from her manager's drawer. Miss Okoro did not use or even open the iPod. When it was found missing, Miss Okoro said that she knew where it was and eventually admitted that she had removed it. She said that she had taken the iPod as a practical joke. In light of the admission, Compass Group did not investigate and proceeded to a disciplinary hearing. Miss Okoro was dismissed for gross misconduct because she had removed company property and Compass Group considered this theft. An employment tribunal decided that Miss Okoro's dismissal was unfair.

The law requires that employers carry out 'as much investigation as was reasonable in the circumstances of the case'. It also states that because certain behaviour could be categorised as gross misconduct does not mean that dismissal will always be reasonable.

The decision

The EAT upheld the tribunal's decision. As Compass Group had not investigated Miss Okoro's contention that she had taken the iPod as a practical joke, it could not be said that she had committed theft.

In practice

In some cases, an employee's admission will be enough. No further investigation will be necessary. In other cases, further investigation will be required. Which applies will depend upon the circumstances of each case.  

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