Tribunal finds employee was fairly dismissed for excessive internet usage
A Liverpool employment tribunal found that Weightmans, a law firm with offices across the UK, followed a “textbook” investigation and dismissal process and dismissed the claims of unfair dismissal by Mrs Hall.
Mrs Hall had started work at Weightmans in 1995 and was employed as a Facilities Assistant. The first question mark around Hall’s behaviour came when she brought her adult daughter and two grandchildren into the office and left them un-supervised. One of the grandchildren was a toddler, and as toddlers do, was seen crawling off towards some automatic doors, which was a substantial health and safety risk.
Due to this incident, Hall was invited to an investigation meeting in late October 2018. During the investigation, Hall detailed that the children were left unaccompanied because she had been on her work computer at the time. Weightmans then requested a copy of Hall’s internet search history which showed that Hall was online for personal purposes.
Weightmans then requested further internet search history for the month of October which revealed that Hall had been on a substantial amount of non-work-related sites including shopping sites such as Debenhams and airline/holiday sites such as easyJet and Ryanair.
On 7th November, Weightmans conducted a second investigation that continued the talks about Hall’s family being un-supervised in the office and her “substantial non-work related” internet usage during core hours. Rachel Ivatt was the investigating officer and was told by Hall that there was no risk to her grandchildren and that she didn’t accept that there was anything wrong with her non-work related internet usage, claiming that she had probably “briefly look at a site then left the window open while I continued working”.
Whilst this investigation was ongoing, an incident between Hall and a colleague occurred where it was alleged that Hall used the words “twat” and “disgusting”.
An additional investigation was completed by Ivatt in late November with her recommending disciplinary action in both the case of Hall’s internet usage and the case of Hall’s grandchildren being unsupervised in the office.
A disciplinary hearing was scheduled for the second week of January where three misconduct allegations were heard. Her non work-related internet usage, her behaviour towards her colleague and her grandchildren being un-supervised in the office. Hall was told that if the investigation proved that her behaviour and actions amounted to misconduct, then it would be possible that she’s could be dismissed.
Hall maintained that her non work-related internet usage was not a cause for concern and denied ever using threatening, abusive or insulting language to her colleague.
Sarah-Jane Howitt, who was appointed as disciplinary officer for this investigation, wrote to Hall towards the end of January. The letter detailed that Hall was to be dismissed without notice on the grounds of gross misconduct. She detailed that Hall had viewed a substantial amount of non-work-related web sites during core hours which amounted to gross misconduct as it had showed “contempt for the trust” that the business had put in her. Howitt went further by saying that she also felt Hall’s conduct towards her colleague was a fundamental breach, in the businesses people policies.
The decision to dismiss her was appealed by Hall but was ultimately dismissed by Weightmans.
The Liverpool employment tribunal dismissed Hall’s claim for unfair dismissal and found that Weightmans was within their right to fire Hall over excessive non-work-related internet usage while at work, detailing that the procedure for both investigation and dismissal carried out by Weightmans was “textbook”.
Caroline Wood, Director of HR Heroes said: “in the case where the employer completes full, thorough and robust disciplinary processes, which is normally detailed in a robust employee handbook, where the dismissal is fair, then if the employee does raise a claim at the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal, the employment tribunal will look at the evidence before them and potentially find in favour of the employer.”
“It is often felt that the system favours the employee, however when the correct process is followed and the decision is the correct and fair one, this does not have to be the case.”