28th November 2023
Worker Unfairly Dismissed After Colleague Found A Video Of Him Being Confronted By ‘Paedophile Hunters’
A warehouse worker had his employment terminated after a colleague discovered a video on social media where the Claimant had been accused of ‘grooming’ an underage girl.
Mr Cooper, the Claimant’s colleague, carried out a search of the Claimant on social media in January 2021. The search revealed a video and photograph headed: ‘The Hunted One’.
In the video, the Claimant is accused by two men of driving one and a half hours from his home to meet a 14-year-old girl that he had been exchanging messages with. Mr. Cooper subsequently forwarded the video to the Claimant’s direct line manager, Mr. Wilson.
On 11 January 2021, the Claimant was called into a meeting by Mr Wilson and Ms Horsley who was the HR Officer chairing the meeting. The Claimant was not told what the purpose of the meeting was or what was to be discussed. The Claimant informed the Respondent that the video was taken in March 2016, he did not dispute the video is of him but stated the video was cut and edited and he was physically attacked at the time by the two men.
In addition to this, the individuals who confronted him had been arrested for falsifying evidence, the case was dismissed, and he has a valid DBS
The Tribunal found that in the meeting on 11 January 2021, the Claimant was not given a chance before a decision was made. The Claimant was offered the option of resigning or being dismissed with no right of appeal. Although the Respondent argued they were concerned about the impact on colleagues, no effort was made to interview anyone other than Mr Wilson and made no effort to see what concerns they had or how these could be addressed.
Furthermore, no steps were taken to investigate potential reputational damage or how these risks could be mitigated.
In relation to the decision to dismiss, the Tribunal found that the decision was a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ after discovering the video and blind prejudice which drove the Respondent to dismiss without any real consideration of circumstances, thought, or investigation. The Tribunal stated that ‘there was no thought to whether re-organising his work on a temporary basis would remove or mitigate any reputational risk which would have been an obvious first step before considering other roles’.
The decision was made on 11 January 2021 to dismiss the Claimant and the Claimant was informed on 11 February 2021, he was then told that he could not appeal the decision and challenged this through the grievance procedure. The Claimant had suffered work-related stress, anxiety, and low mood following the disciplinary.
The Tribunal found that Mr Khan, HR Director, had a closed mind from the outset at the appeal against the grievance. He argued that Ms Horsley could not have shown bias as she was an HR professional and stated the Claimant looked guilty in the video. Mr Khan then took steps to establish whether the Claimant was guilty by contacting CPS and doubted the authenticity of the letter and email from the CPS.
The Tribunal concluded that the breaches of the Acas code of practice were ‘serious’ and ‘numerous’ which resulted in the matter amounting to unfair dismissal. The Claimant was awarded £21,449.93 in damages.
The case highlights the importance of compelling evidence of reputational damage or relationship breakdown when these factors are being relied upon as reasons for dismissal.
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