In an important test case, the Court of Appeal has been asked to decide whether the test of ‘proportionality’ laid down by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) should be applied to unfair dismissal cases (Turner v East Midlands Trains Limited).
A senior train conductor who was dismissed after being accused of fraud is arguing that the Employment Tribunal that rejected her case should have considered the personal consequences of her losing her job and found that the circumstances amounted to a violation of Article Eight of the ECHR, which enshrines the right to respect for private and family life.
Her lawyers argue that her dismissal, at the age of 51, had irreparably stigmatised her previously spotless reputation, ruined her prospects of getting another job and destroyed her relationship with long-standing colleagues, some of whom had ‘ostracised’ her.
It was submitted that the consequences of dismissal were so serious that Article Eight was ‘engaged’ in the case and that the ET should have considered whether the woman’s dismissal amounted to a disproportionate interference with her human rights.
After 12 unblemished years working for East Midlands Trains Limited, the woman – who has always vehemently denied any wrong-doing – was accused of deliberately manipulating a hand-held machine to print out ‘non-issued’ tickets, which closely resemble genuine tickets, and selling them to members of the public for cash.
She was dismissed in March 2010 and has since had her unfair dismissal claims rejected by an employment tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. However, she is now asking the Court of Appeal to overturn those decisions and order a re-hearing of her case by a fresh tribunal.
However, lawyers representing East Midlands Trains insist that the company carried out a ‘thorough and fair investigation’ before dismissing the woman. ‘It would be an extraordinary state of affairs if dismissal in such circumstances by a private sector employer was, or was capable of being, unfair simply because the appellant’s reputation or ability to interact with her former workmates had thereby been affected,’ it was submitted.
Is this the law gone mad? If a thorough investigation has been conducted and an employment tribunal and EAT has concluded that unfair dismissal has not occurred then that should be the end of it.