Following on from our previous Blog about Adam, one of the main characters in Cold Feet (the ITV Drama) getting into trouble for making inappropriate comments, he has now managed to get himself summarily dismissed.
For those of you who haven’t seen the episode, he severely sprained an ankle on a weekend walking trip and was signed off work. His employers became suspicious when he went into the office to hand in his note from the hospital doctor and he took a number of social calls including arranging lunch with a friend.
His employers decided to act upon their suspicions by instructing a private investigator to follow him who then took photographs of him at various social engagements, at the gym with his son and at a funeral carrying a coffin. It is legitimate for an employer, who has suspicions about whether or not an employee is genuinely unwell, to engage the services of a private investigator or to do some super sleuthing themselves; it can be a useful means of gathering the evidence that might be needed to take disciplinary action. Those who engage in the investigating have to be careful about their practices, as privacy arguments and human rights emerge, eg. you would take a photograph of somebody leaving their home via the front door, but you wouldn’t take a photograph through their windows.
In the episode, the American owner of the business tells Adam that based on the photographic evidence, without giving him any opportunity to explain the circumstances, that he is dismissed and he is lucky that he is not being sued for fraud. Being sued for fraud in these circumstances is not something that an employer can really do in the UK, but it made for a dramatic moment.
I believe Adam has been engaged for more than 2 years at the IT company in which he works. This means he has the protection of the unfair dismissal legislation, so will be able to claim that his dismissal is procedurally unfair. He should have been given an invitation to a disciplinary hearing setting out what he was accused of, giving him the evidence to be considered against him, allowing him the statutory right to be accompanied, and a meeting should have taken place, giving him the opportunity to make representations. It can be tempting for line managers to take a knee jerk reaction when they feel the evidence in front of them is overwhelming, but this procedural aspect to the unfair dismissal test is critical.
Just being handed his P45 will enable Adam to argue that he has not received a proper outcome letter from a disciplinary hearing, nor has he been given the right of appeal, which again is a critical ingredient. The American owner has obviously waded in, so arguably there wouldn’t be anybody independent available for an appeal, even if he raised it.
When it comes to quantum, the value of Adam’s claim may be diminished, because the employer may argue that it would take eg. one week to have followed a fair procedure and therefore they should only pay him one week’s salary equivalent.
I doubt very much that the writers of Cold Feet are going to go into any of this detail, but it will be interesting to see what Adam does next.
If you would like to catch up on the episode, please see the ITV Hub