Off side doesn’t always mean no goal

Off side doesn’t always mean no goal

Off side doesn’t always mean no goal

Last week the CIPD’s People Management Daily e-mail reported on the case of Chelsea Football Club’s groundsman who was found to have been unfairly dismissed after sending out anonymous e-mails claiming the Club’s manager had threatened to kill him. Despite “winning”, the groundsman got nothing.

Mr McKnight was a lifelong fan of Chelsea Football Club. During a Christmas social event in 2019, he had an altercation with his line manager. The Claimant said his line manager threatened to kill him, saying “You will be leaving here in a body bag”, threw him against a wall and sexually assaulted him.

Despite this Mr McKnight continued to work at the Club for a year and half, reporting to the same line manager, before he raised a grievance about the incident and other events involving his manager. Although some parts of the grievance were upheld, a large number were not. The grievance appeal did not resolve matters to his satisfaction either.

Mr McKnight had previously threatened to publicise the allegations outside of Chelsea Football Club. So when an anonymous e-mail was sent out nearly 1,000 times with the title “Chelsea Football Club Scandal – Cover up Assault and Sexual Assault”, followed by three further anonymous e-mails, it was not surprising that the Club concluded Mr McKnight was responsible and that his position was untenable. He was dismissed with immediate effect without any hearing or investigation.

In deciding Mr McKnight’s claim for unfair dismissal, the Employment Tribunal found that he had “engaged in serious culpable conduct which caused his dismissal” and had the Club applied a fair procedure there was a “100% chance” he would have been fairly dismissed. As a result they awarded Mr McKnight nothing.

The case illustrates that whilst procedure is an important factor in whether a dismissal is fair, the actual reason for dismissal is often more important when it comes to compensation.

In this case, the Club took the view that the evidence against Mr McKnight was overwhelming. Even if he hadn’t actually sent the e-mails, he had instructed someone else to send them and so an investigation or disciplinary meeting would serve no useful purpose.

Employers should not take this case as carte blanche to ignore process and channel Alan Sugar when dismissing but it certainly serves as a reminder that, sometimes, assessing the situation and taking an informed risk might avoid the hassle of a lengthy internal process which will ultimately not change anything.

The judgment of the case can be found here [].


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