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‘Some other substantial reason’ – the scope just got wider

The scope of the "catch all" fair reason for dismissal, 'some other substantial reason', has been widened by the EAT.

The background

In Ezsias v North Glamorgan NHS Trust the claimant, Andrew Ezsias, was a surgeon employed by the North Glamorgan NHS Trust. Whilst employed there, he expressed concerns about his colleagues and the clinical standards of his department. As a result, his colleagues complained, resulting in an internal inquiry and a finding that his comments were "excessively frequent, unacceptably detailed and unrelenting to an extreme degree". Nine senior members of the department signed a petition stating that there was a complete lack of confidence in, and a total breakdown of the relationship between them and Mr Ezsias.

As a result of this inquiry and petition, the Trust suspended Mr Ezsias pending the outcome of an external investigation. The investigation found that there had been anirretrievable breakdown in working relationships and that Mr Ezsias was a large cause of that breakdown. The report suggested two options: instigating disciplinary proceedings or terminating Mr Ezsias' employment on the basis of the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. The Trust dismissed him.

Mr Ezsias brought Tribunal proceedings for unfair dismissal but these were unsuccessful. He appealed on various grounds, the most relevant being that the Trust had breached his contract by failing to follow the disciplinary procedures. He argued that these should have applied as this was an allegation of misconduct.

The outcome

The Tribunal made a point of drawing a difference between dismissing Mr Ezsias for his conduct in causing the breakdown of the relationship, and dismissing him for the fact that the relationship had broken down. They felt that the latter was a dismissal due to 'some other substantial reason', not due to his conduct. Therefore, the Trust did not have to follow the disciplinary procedures that normally applied upon allegations of misconduct. The appeal to the EAT was dismissed.

How will this ruling affect you?

This ruling sets out that in some cases it may be sustainable for employers to dismiss employees for 'some other substantial reason', on the grounds that working relationships have broken down, regardless of whether that employee is or is not responsible for the breakdown. This applies even if there has been no official misconduct. The fact of the irretrievable breakdown of working relationships may suffice to allow the employer to fairly bring the employment relationship to an end. Much will depend upon a fair procedure being followed, however.

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