Employment Tribunal Concludes Dismissal of Solicitor Was “Procedurally Unfair”

In a recent case reported in the Law Society Gazette, an employment tribunal concluded that the dismissal of an assistant solicitor by his employer was “procedurally unfair”. Luton based legal practitioner Edegbai Oise brought a claim for unfair dismissal after he was dismissed from his role with Spring & Co Solicitors. In this article, we will look at the facts of the case, and why the employment tribunal concluded that the way in which the law firm dismissed Mr Oise was “procedurally unfair”.

Facts Of The Case

Edegbai Oise was employed by Luton firm Spring and Co Solicitors as an assistant solicitor and was supervised by the firm’s director, Petronilla Aghaeze. According to the details of the case in the Law Society Gazette, an issue arose after Mr Oise had been asked to request frequent updates from one of the firm’s personal injury clients relating to a case which was being investigated by an insurer. The client was reportedly “unhappy” and stated they felt they were being “chased” by Mr Oise. As a result of the client’s response, Mr Oise sent them an email threatening to end the retainer. The threat by Oise to the client was reportedly made in the absence of a discussion with his supervisor. When the threat was brought to the attention of the firm, Mr Oise was requested to write to the client, formally retract the threat he had made, and to apologise. Mr Oise refused to comply with the request because he felt he had done nothing wrong. Despite the fact that Mr Oise had not acted on his threat to terminate the retainer with the client, his supervisor believed that he had exceeded his case management powers.

Spring and Co commenced a formal disciplinary process in relation to the threat by Mr Oise to end a retainer with a client. As part of this process, the firm proceeded with a disciplinary meeting even though Mr Oise had provided a medical note confirming he was unfit to work. As a result, he was unable to attend the disciplinary meeting. The firm stated that they did not believe he had a genuine illness and proceeded with his dismissal. Mr Oise brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

What Did The Employment Tribunal Conclude?

In the Watford employment tribunal, Judge Davison, concluded that Spring & Co Solicitors had acted “unreasonably” by proceeding with the disciplinary meeting even though Mr Oise had been signed off from work for two weeks. The judge also concluded that:

  • Spring and Co would have had grounds to dismiss the Mr Oise if it had delayed the disciplinary hearing
  • Spring and Co acted reasonably by asking Mr Oise to apologise to the client
  • Mr Oise’s refusal to retract what he had said and apologise to the client ultimately undermined the trust and confidence between employee and employer. This would have led to his dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct.

The employment tribunal found that Mr Oise’s dismissal by Spring and Co was “procedurally unfair”. In addition, Spring and Co was ordered to pay damages of £1,177 for unfair dismissal, however, the award was reduced by 50% due to Mr Oise’s conduct.

Final Words

This case serves as a reminder that even where there are strong grounds for dismissal of an employee, it is important to follow a fair process in line with best practice before proceeding with such action. As the tribunal confirmed, had the law firm simply waited before having the disciplinary meeting, they would have been within their rights to dismiss their employee on the grounds of gross misconduct. Having a well documented, centrally managed, and easily accessible HR disciplinary process, backed up with HR support and effective training is essential in avoiding procedurally unfair dismissal. Such cases can unnecessarily lead to damage for law firms in terms of the time taken, resources used, costs paid, and the reputational harm caused.

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