Third party pressure to dismiss

A recent case makes it clear that before dismissing an employee at the behest of a third party, an employer should consider the nature and extent of any injustice the employee would suffer as a result.

In Greenwood v Whiteghyll Plastics (EAT 0219/07), the company employed Mr Greenwood to carry out shop fittings at various stores. For some time, Mr Greenwood worked at stores owned by one of the company’s major customers. The customer then made three complaints about Mr Greenwood’s standard of work and told the company that he was barred from working in its stores. The company was unable to find Mr Greenwood alternative work and therefore dismissed him following a disciplinary hearing.

The tribunal concluded that the dismissal was fair as the company had little choice but to dismiss in view of the customer’s demands. Mr Greenwood appealed, relying on an earlier Court of Appeal decision (Dobie v Burns International Security Services (UK) Ltd 1984 ICR 812). Here, the Court of Appeal confirmed that pressure from a third party is capable of justifying an employee’s dismissal. However, the Court stated that in deciding whether the employer acted reasonably or unreasonably, a very important factor is whether there will or will not be injustice to the employee and the extent of that injustice. In this respect, the employer should take into account the employee’s length of service, his work record and the difficulties he may face in obtaining other employment before making the decision to dismiss.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal allowed the appeal, agreeing with Mr Greenwood that neither the employer nor the tribunal had given any consideration to the extent of the injustice that he had suffered. Had this been considered, it may well have been that it made no difference to the decision to dismiss. However, taking into account that there had been no criticism of the employee’s work or his capability, the injustice may have been so severe that the employer should have reorganised its business enabling the employee to take another job within the company.

This case makes it clear that an employer can take the decision to dismiss an employee as a result of pressure from a third party. However, before doing so, the employer must take into account the extent of any injustice to the employee. If the employer fails to do so, the dismissal may be unfair.

Read the other articles in this newsletter:

Smoking dismissal was fair
Manager selected for redundancy because of his age
Failure to adapt grievance procedure gives rise to constructive dismissal claim
Q&A – Constructive dismissal

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