Mr Jones was employed as the fixed wing flying instructor for Fly Light. There was a heated exchange between him and the director of the business after they failed to service Mr Jones’ plane which he used to conduct lessons. Expletive insults and threats were made by Mr Jones and the aggravated director threw a cup of tea at Mr Jones before asking him to leave.
Was Mr Jones unfairly and wrongfully dismissed?
Mr Jones v Fly Light Air Sports Limited
Mr Jones was employed as the fixed wing flying instructor for Fly Light. Mr Jones asked the director, Mr Ashman, to ensure that his usual aircraft needed 50-hour service and Mr Ashman agreed this would be carried out the next day. When Mr Jones arrived to work he learned that the service had not been carried out. Mr Jones booked an alternative aircraft to be able to carry on with his day. Mr Ashman and Mr Jones met later on in the day and Mr Jones queried why the service had not been carried out, making what Mr Ashman interpreted to be a sarcastic comment. An argument continued between the two men inside and outside the workplace as Mr Jones was walking towards the aircraft to carry out lessons. Threats were made by Mr Jones and bad language was exchanged. Mr Ashman then threw his cup of tea towards Mr Jones, although he missed. Mr Ashman said he did not want Mr Jones flying his aircrafts and asked him to leave. Mr Jones packed up his belongings, left the keys for the premises and did not return to work.
Mr Jones brought claims for wrongful and unfair dismissal.
The timing of Mr Jones’ dismissal was disputed. Mr Jones argued that it was the day Mr Ashman asked him to leave and not fly his aircrafts. However, Fly Light argue that it was a couple of weeks later, when Mr Jones was invited to a disciplinary meeting that he failed to attend. He was then sent a letter after the meeting confirming that he had been dismissed for gross misconduct.
The tribunal ruled that Mr Jones was wrongfully and unfairly dismissed. It established that the day Mr Jones was dismissed was the day that Mr Ashman asked him to leave the premises. Although the director did not say “You’re sacked”, he did ask Mr Jones to get his belongings and leave. Mr Jones was not contacted after this to say that he had not been sacked. The company received legal advice and it was only after this that the director realised he could not dismiss Mr Jones in this way and needed to follow a disciplinary procedure. However, the tribunal set out that it was too late and the director had already dismissed Mr Jones. Due to the lack of procedure it concluded that the dismissal was inevitably unfair. The tribunal did reduce the sum claimed due to the expletive insults and threats made by Mr Jones.
This is a classic case of an employer making a knee-jerk reaction to a situation and paying the price.
Directors and managers faced with an abusive employee need to keep a cool head and choose their words very carefully. If the employee’s behaviour amounts to misconduct or gross misconduct, the matter should be dealt with impartially at a disciplinary hearing by a manager not involved in the incident, following an investigation. If a reactive manager blows up and uses words which could easily be construed as a dismissal, a finding of unfair dismissal will follow in the event of an employment tribunal.