M Gallacher vs Abellio Scotrail Ltd – An exceptional fair dismissal
A fair dismissal requires a proper procedure to be followed, and the decision to dismiss to fall within the band of reasonable responses. However, in the employment tribunal case Gallacher vs Abellio Scotrail Ltd, an exception was made given the very unusual and rare circumstances.
Gallacher was employed as a senior manager and her relationship with her manager turned sour around 2014. Over the next three years further issues arose leading to the relationship worsening to the point that Gallacher had a period of sickness in 2017. Upon her return, an appraisal meeting took place where business challenges and pressures were discussed and a phased return to work was agreed as support. This meeting was summarised afterwards by the Manager however Gallacher responded to say it was not an accurate reflection of the discussion and tensions between both parties reached their peak. At the same time the business was entering a critical period having posted significant trading losses. Given this, the business required Gallacher, and other senior managers to be relied upon for taking forward the businesses at such an uncertain time. Abellio Scotrail concluded that Gallacher’s role in the business was pivotal, but there was now a breakdown in trust and confidence which was causing a serious disruption to the business. Given the business-critical time it was deemed that a change in leadership was needed and a decision was taken to dismiss Gallacher. Despite Abellio Scotrail knowing there were clear disciplinary and performance procedures in place, it was not considered that a matter of either conduct or performance, where following a process would help manage the situation. Gallacher was therefore dismissed. There was no procedure followed, or any forewarning given, nor was she offered the right of appeal.
Surprisingly, the tribunal found the dismissal to be considered a fair response to the circumstances and went so far to hold the view that using a procedure would have made the situation worse. The Employment Appeals Tribunal also agreed with the original finding, holding the view that to have carried out a procedure in this case would have been futile given that the working relationship had broken down on both sides.
Whilst this is an interesting finding; it should be read with caution. It is only for exceptional, rare cases where the circumstances of the case are such that warrants a dismissal without any due process. We would always recommend you seek HR advice on cases involving senior members of your team to ensure the approach taken is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.
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