November 30, 2015

Consistency of Treatment Following Office Party Brawl

In MBNA Limited v Jones UKEAT/0120/15, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether the inconsistent treatment of two employees arising from the same incident rendered the dismissal of one of them unfair.

Mr Jones and Mr Battersby were employees of MBNA Limited (MBNA). They fell out at a work event which resulted in Mr Jones punching Mr Battersby in the face and, subsequently, Mr Battersby sending Mr Jones a series of abusive texts threatening physical violence (although these threats were never carried out). Mr Jones and Mr Battersby were subject to disciplinary proceedings and both found guilty of gross misconduct. However, Mr Jones was dismissed whereas Mr Battersby was given a final written warning. Mr Jones brought an unfair dismissal claim, arguing that they should both have been treated in the same way. The EAT rejected this argument. His dismissal was not unfair as MBNA’s decision to dismiss him had been within the band of reasonable responses open to it in the circumstances. The mere fact that Mr Battersby was treated more leniently than Mr Jones was not relevant because the situation of both employees had not been "truly parallel". In short, the EAT considered it reasonable for MBNA to have considered Mr Jones’ punch more serious than Mr Battersby’s abusive text messages.

While this decision is encouraging for employers, it should be remembered that each case turns on its facts. Employers should consider all circumstances of a case very carefully before deciding to impose different sanctions on employees who are both found guilty of misconduct arising from the same incident.

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