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Jabba the Hutt as a referee?

A pilot was found by an Employment Tribunal to have provided false information in an application for employment, specifically providing a reference from a Star Wars villain, Jabba the Hut. He resigned with immediate effect, but subsequently claimed notice pay. His employer made a counterclaim for the costs it had incurred in training him, which was successful.

Is he entitled to notice pay?

Mr Francis-McGann v West Atlantic UK Limited

Mr Francis-McGann is a pilot. He applied for a position with West Atlantic UK Limited as a Captain and was successful. He then commenced training and working as a Captain.

Soon after his placement his references were reviewed and it was clear that Mr Francis-McGann had lied on his application. Specifically, he had provided a false reference from a false email address. It purported to be from Desilijic Tiure which is actually the alternative name of Jabba the Hutt, a character from Star Wars. This was to hide the fact that he claimed to have previously worked as a Captain when his previous positions had in fact all been as a First Officer.

West Atlantic UK Limited addressed this with Mr Francis-McGann who initially denied but, ultimately, admitted providing false information. West Atlantic UK Limited offered Mr Francis-McGann the opportunity to resign “with immediate effect”, as an alternative to dismissal for gross misconduct, which he did.

Mr Francis-McGann subsequently claimed 3 months’ notice pay, being his contractual entitlement and said he had resigned with notice. This was refuted by West Atlantic UK Limited who counter-claimed for recovery of Mr Francis-McGann’s training costs, as it was their policy that such costs were recoverable should his employment end within the first 6 months.

Decision 

The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Francis-McGann’s claim for notice pay. It noted that whilst he had a number of explanations and justifications for his actions it was inescapable that he had lied on his application and provided a false name and email address for his referee. It set out that this was a very serious matter for West Atlantic UK Limited as his training at the outset of his employment was arranged based on his alleged experience. Had West Atlantic UK Limited known that he had never been a Captain they may not have employed him and they would, in any event, have been obliged to provide him with more training. Furthermore, if there had been an incident the consequences could have been catastrophic and any enquiry would have discovered that Mr Francis-McGann was inadequately trained for the position in which he flew.

The Tribunal went on to accept West Atlantic UK Limited’s claim for training costs concluding that the training is an essential step in the company safely employing pilots and this comes at a considerable cost. The policy that pilots must repay the training costs if they leave within 6 months is not unreasonable or unfair. Moreover, Mr Francis-McGann signed a credit agreement with the company to confirm and accept this policy and so must repay the costs of £4,725.

Comment

References are valuable sources of information for employers, often providing insight into a candidate’s suitability for the role.

Employers should ensure that any offers of employment are made subject to receiving satisfactory references. This would make it possible to immediately withdraw any offer of employment should the candidate fail to provide a reference or if the employer is not happy with the reference provided.

The above is especially important if a candidate’s employment has already commenced. Setting out that the offer was clearly subject to satisfactory references can give an employer grounds for immediately terminating the employee’s contract without the need to provide contractual notice.

If an employer fail to clearly set out that an offer of employment is subject to satisfactory references and an employee commences employment, the employer could be face breach of contract claims if it terminates the employee’s employment on receipt of an unsatisfactory reference, which could result in the employer being required to pay the employee’s entire notice entitlement.

If you have any queries relating to recruitment or if you have any other employment related queries please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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