Employee was fairly dismissed for single incident of swearing directed at manager
In a recent case, a tribunal ruled that the employer was entitled to take a serious view of an isolated incident in which an employee lost her temper and swore at a team leader.
The employee had worked for the employer for 9 years before her dismissal and had received no disciplinary warnings. On the day in question, her team leader interrupted her while she was making a phone call. The employee became upset by the interruptions and broke down in tears. According to the evidence, there was a "frank exchange of views" that culminated in the employee telling her team leader to "fuck off".
At her disciplinary hearing for using foul and abusive language, the employee admitted that her swearing was "out of order", but could not say that she regretted it. She was dismissed and claimed unfair dismissal.
The employment tribunal noted that at least one colleague who heard the outburst was "shocked" and that bad language was not tolerated in this workplace.
The employee argued that her swearing was out of character and that she was feeling under pressure at work. However, the tribunal found that, although the employee’s actions were probably out of character, she had not told anyone at the company that she was feeling under pressure and had not raised a formal grievance or used stress to explain her actions.
The tribunal concluded that the company had, by a "very slim margin", shown that the dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses. The tribunal concluded that, even if it had come to a decision that the company was acting outside the range of reasonable responses, it would have drastically reduced any compensation awarded to the employee. She had contributed to her own dismissal "by a factor in excess of 90%.
Although the tribunal had some reservations about the dismissal, it seems to have been swayed by the fact that the swearing was aimed at a particular person. This case should be contrasted with another recent case in which the Court of Appeal held that an employment tribunal was entitled to find that the dismissal of a nurse for making a lewd comment about a patient was outside the range of reasonable responses. It was intended as a humorous remark, and there was no evidence that the patient or any member of the public heard it.
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