Sometimes working relationships just break down and can’t be repaired. The employer may feel that it is left with no alternative but to dismiss an employee who simply cannot work effectively with a manager or key colleagues. A dismissal on these grounds can fall within the potentially fair category of ‘some other substantial reason’ and the question will then be whether the employer has behaved reasonably.
In Gallacher v Abellio Scotrail the employee – Ms Gallacher – was a manager who initially had a good working relationship with her boss, Ms Taggart. This started to turn sour however when her request for a pay-rise was initially turned down. Ms Gallacher perceived a general change of culture in the business and decided that she ‘wanted out’. There were then a number of issues arising concerning whether or not Ms Gallacher should take part in an on-call rota and over the recruitment of a new member of her team. She made it clear that she was looking for another role and took a period of sick leave lasting some seven weeks. In a one-to-one meeting Ms Gallacher and Ms Taggart discussed their deteriorating relationship and Ms Gallacher said that she did not behave in the same way with anyone else. Ms Taggart felt that she was ascribing all the blame for their difficulties to her and was not interested in working to resolve matters.
It was decided that Ms Gallacher had lost confidence in Ms Taggart and that she would therefore have to leave the business. She was told this at her annual appraisal and was not offered any right of appeal. She claimed that she had been unfairly dismissed.
The Tribunal rejected her claim. They held that Ms Gallacher had adopted a ‘truculent’ attitude in her discussions with Ms Taggart and had indeed lost all confidence in her. Their differences meant that the relationship could not be rescued and that any attempt to resolve their issues through mediation or further discussions would have been futile.
Ms Gallacher’s appeal to the EAT focussed on arguing that the employer had not followed a reasonable procedure before deciding to dismiss. Ms Gallacher had been given no warning that dismissal was being considered and no opportunity to reflect on her approach in the light of that fact. She had been told of the decision at a meeting arranged for some other purpose and had been given no opportunity to appeal or put her side of the argument.
The EAT rejected the appeal. This was one of those rare cases in which the employer was entitled to conclude that it would have been futile to follow a procedure before deciding to dismiss. Ms Gallacher did not dispute that her relationship with Ms Taggart had broken down and the Tribunal found that she had displayed no interest in resolving the situation. This was a breakdown in trust between two senior managers and the Tribunal had been entitled to find that following something akin to a disciplinary procedure would have served no useful purpose.
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