An employee was unfairly dismissed when he was told to “not bother coming back on Monday” during an argument with his manager, an employment tribunal has held.
In Townsend v Commercial Storage Ltd, the employment tribunal held that a manager’s angry words during an argument to an employee to “not bother coming back on Monday” constituted a dismissal.
Mr Townsend, a driver for a small family business, got into an argument with Mr Cooke, who ran the business.
At Mr Cooke’s insistence, Mr Townsend had come into work while on annual leave to set up a new truck that he was taking out. He resented being disturbed while on annual leave.
Although there was a factual dispute as to how events unfolded, it is clear that the two men got into an argument. The claimant swore during the argument. According to Mr Townsend, Mr
Cooke said to him during the argument: “Get out of the yard and don’t bother coming back on Monday.”
Mr Townsend took this as a dismissal and left the workplace. Mr Cooke made no attempt to contact Mr Townsend in the next few weeks and later sent him his P45.
Mr Townsend claimed unfair dismissal, but the employer argued that he had resigned and had not been dismissed.
The employment tribunal accepted that both parties acted in a way that suggested dismissal: Mr Townsend left the employer’s property behind and did not return to work. He told others that he had been sacked. The employer took no steps to ascertain Mr Townsend’s whereabouts when he did not return to work.
Once the tribunal concluded that Mr Townsend had been dismissed, it had no hesitation in upholding his unfair dismissal claim. There was a total failure to adopt any sort of fair procedure.
This case is a good example to demonstrate to managers that they must avoid using words that could be construed as an on-the-spot dismissal when tempers are frayed. An instant dismissal will be procedurally unfair.
The most appropriate course of action for a manager faced with an employee who has lost control will be to send him or her home for the day. The employer can recall the employee to the workplace a day or two later to discuss the matter when emotions are not running so high.
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