In the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case of Hargreaves v Governing Body of Manchester Grammar School, it was found not to have been unfair for the school to withhold specific evidence from the disciplinary panel following a teacher’s (Mr Hargreaves) altercation with a pupil.
Hargreaves v Governing Body of Manchester Grammar School
In March 2016, it was alleged that Mr Hargreaves, an Art and Design Teacher, grabbed a pupil, pushed him against a wall and put his fingers to his throat. During the investigation into the incident, the investigating officer spoke to three witnesses who said that they had not seen Mr Hargreaves do anything. However, it was decided not to disclose this information to the teacher or the disciplinary panel in the investigation report.
At the disciplinary hearing, the High Master and Deputy Head of the school decided to dismiss the teacher for gross misconduct. He appealed to a panel of the school’s governors but the appeal was unsuccessful.
Following his dismissal, Mr Hargreaves brought a claim for unfair dismissal, but was unsuccessful in the Employment Tribunal. He proceeded to appeal to the EAT on the grounds that the school’s investigation into the incident had been inadequate, especially given the likely impact of such allegations on his future career. He also argued that it had been unfair to withhold the evidence from those who had not seen anything happen.
Employment Appeal Tribunal Judgement
The EAT dismissed Mr Hargreaves’ appeal, finding that the school had carried out a reasonable investigation in light of the seriousness of the allegations and that the decision to withhold the witness evidence was within the band of reasonable responses. It agreed with the Employment Tribunal’s earlier finding that just because those witnesses had not seen anything, it did not necessarily follow that nothing had happened.
Employers in the education sector can often find themselves weighed down by their procedures and spending countless hours investigating allegations, making sure no stone is left un-turned. Sure, it is important to get the procedure right and to act fairly but this case is a welcome reminder that investigators are not expected to be perfect detectives. They are expected to act reasonably which in this case meant conducting an investigation which was proportionate to the allegations and making measured decisions about what was, and what was not, relevant information to be presented at the disciplinary stage.