In the case of Townsend v Commercial Storage Limited, Mr Townsend was a driver. Commercial Storage Limited are a small family run business led by Mr Cooke. Mr Cooke and Mr Townsend had known each other for 20 years. An argument broke out between the two as Mr Cooke had called Mr Townsend into work during his annual leave to set up a new truck. Mr Townsend resented being disturbed during pre-booked leave. During the argument Mr Cooke allegedly told Mr Townsend to “get out of the yard and don’t bother coming back on Monday”.
Mr Townsend considered that he had been dismissed so left the yard and handed back his keys and company mobile phone. No contact was made in the next few weeks. Mr Townsend received his P45.
Mr Townsend bought a claim for unfair dismissal. Mr Cooke argued that he had not been dismissed but had resigned. The Employment Tribunal considered that Mr Townsend had been dismissed. Following this decision, it was clear that no fair process had been followed resulting in an unfair dismissal.
The Employment Tribunal looked at the principles when dealing with words uttered when tempers are frayed. In a situation like this, a Tribunal is required to consider how a reasonable person would construe the words and whether they could constitute a dismissal. It was clear in this case that the actions of the parties after the argument had been akin to a dismissal. Mr Cooke had not contacted Mr Townsend following his leaving the yard, the words “don’t bother coming back on Monday” displayed finality to the situation and Mr Townsend had returned his company property in reliance upon the statement made by the employer.
This is a stark reminder of the risks of saying this in the heat of the moment and how these may result in Employment Tribunal claims. Following a fair process in this situation could have been the difference between a fair and an unfair dismissal. The first step is to have a good policy; the second is to follow it.
This article is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. Knight Polson Limited trading as QualitySolicitors Knight Polson accepts no responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.
We regularly advise on unfair dismissal claims so if you would like some guidance on the process, risks and likely costs we can help.