Suspending a disciplinary to hear a grievance

Summary

Many employers will have encountered an employee raising a grievance part way through a disciplinary process and will have considered if it was necessary to suspend the disciplinary until the grievance has been heard. In Jinadu v Docklands Buses Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal "(EAT)" has confirmed that, in certain circumstances, it is not unfair to simply continue with the disciplinary process.

Background and Decision

Ms Jinadu was employed as a bus driver. Due to allegations of poor driving and her refusal to attend an assessment course, disciplinary proceedings were brought against her. During the disciplinary process, Ms Jinadu raised a grievance about some of the managers involved in the disciplinary process, saying that they were “against” her. The grievance went very little further than this allegation and had no substance to it. Without suspending the disciplinary in order to hear the grievance, her employer continued with the disciplinary and ultimately dismissed her for failure to follow a reasonable instruction.

Ms Jinadu bought a claim for unfair dismissal, amongst other things, alleging that her dismissal was unfair because the disciplinary should have been suspended in order for her grievance to be heard first. The EAT rejected this argument, but rather unhelpfully declined to give any guidance about when it might be appropriate to suspend a disciplinary in these circumstances.

The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures does not provide much assistance either. It states that it may be appropriate to deal with related disciplinary and grievances at the same time. The ACAS Guide to the Code states that employers should ‘consider’ suspending a disciplinary when a grievance is received.

Impact on Employers

This case demonstrates that failing to suspend a disciplinary to hear a grievance will not inevitably lead to a finding of unfair dismissal. However, care should be taken not to ignore genuine complaints. Where the outcome of the grievance could have a bearing on the outcome of the disciplinary, it is advisable to suspend disciplinary proceedings and deal with the grievance first. Delaying the outcome of the disciplinary in order to hear a genuine grievance could help avoid a trip to the tribunal.

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