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Always follow the Acas Code, even in seemingly clear-cut dismissal cases

Gross misconduct - behaviour so serious that it is grounds to terminate a contract of employment - can justify dismissal without notice.

But even in the most serious cases, employers must follow a fair and reasonable procedure before the dismissal.

Tribunal award given in favour of jailed employee

This stipulation came starkly to light in a recent case brought to employment tribunal. A head chef who attacked police officers after an argument, breaking the finger of one, biting another's leg and spitting blood at both and other bystanders, was convicted and given an 18-month prison sentence.

While he was in jail, his employer sacked him. However, they didn't follow any dismissal procedure, didn't investigate what had happened, couldn't demonstrate that they had notified him of their decision, nor offered him any right to appeal.

On the face of it, their decision to dismiss seems hard to criticise - but the manner in which they reached that decision could be.

The tribunal ruled that 'it was persuaded that the complete absence of a disciplinary process with no right of appeal did not fall within the band of reasonable responses open to an employer in justifying the fairness of a summary dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct for a first disciplinary offence.'

As a result, it ordered the employer to pay the chef compensation of more than £11,000.

Follow the Code

It may seem a strange award, given the severity of the incident. But it shows the importance of following a fair procedure no matter the situation.

The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures sets out core principles for handling disciplinary proceedings fairly and reasonably.

Employment Tribunals are legally required to take the Acas Code of Practice into account in relevant cases.

This means that if an employer unreasonably fails to follow the guidance set out in the code, a tribunal can increase any award by up to 25 per cent. It also means that if an employee unreasonably fails to follow the guidance, an award can be reduced by up to 25 per cent.

Acas publications and services

Detailed guidance on the Code can be found in the Acas booklet pdf icon Discipline and grievances at work: The Acas guide [692kb].

Acas has a wealth of advice about Disputes and problems at work, including the pdf icon Advisory booklet - Managing conflict at work [1Mb].

Free template letters are also available for all stages of formal procedures when Disciplining staff.

Acas experts can visit your organisation to help you develop your discipline and grievance procedures, and build more effective working relationships. Go to Disputes and mediation: how Acas can help for details.

And practical training is available on Discipline and grievance, Conflict management, Investigations and Handling difficult conversations.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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