Unfair dismissal: Evaluative conclusions not necessary for disciplinary investigation report

In Dronsfield v The University of Reading UKEAT/0255/18, Dr Dronsfield was an academic working at the University of Reading. He was dismissed following a disciplinary process for his conduct which was deemed by his employer to have been of an “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment.” (namely, having had a sexual relationship with a student). Dr Dronsfield brought a claim for unfair dismissal but this was rejected by the first two tribunals. On appeal, the EAT looked at the tribunal’s approach to evidence which had been removed from a draft investigation report and the fairness of altering this report.

The disciplinary process involved various stages of investigation and report, recommendations to the Vice-Chancellor, charges and hearing, decision to dismiss, and then appeal. A disciplinary panel carried out the investigation and prepared the draft investigation report. On advice from the in-house solicitor, their evaluative conclusions of whether the employee's conduct amounted to misconduct as defined by the employer's rules was removed so that it was not included in the final report. The tribunals agreed that it  was appropriate for the solicitor to advise that the investigation report should be restricted to factual findings and a conclusion as to whether there was a prima facie case to answer, and not include any evaluative judgments on whether the conduct fell within the relevant categories, as this was a matter for the disciplinary tribunal subsequently appointed. The initial drafts of the investigation report (which contained the opinions that were helpful to the employee's case but which the in-house solicitor had advised be removed) were reviewed at the appeal stage, but the appeal had not been upheld.

The EAT held that it was clear that the tribunal had considered the overall fairness of the whole process followed by the employer, including the appeal stage, and had been entitled to find that the dismissal was fair. Further, the tribunal had properly concluded that adopting that approach was not unfair. The appeal was dismissed.

Published: 24 October 2019

Article Sections: Ending employment | Disciplinary matters

Tags: unfair dismissal, disciplinary process, investigation report

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