Tribunal finds that employee was unfairly dismissed after accused of breaching confidentiality (Dean v John Reid & Sons (Strucsteel) Ltd)

In the case of Dean v John Reid & Sons (Strucsteel) Ltd ET/1400458/2017 the Employment Tribunal held that Mr Dean had been unfairly dismissed by his employer

The facts in Dean v John Reid & Sons (Strucsteel) Ltd

John Reid & Sons (Strucsteel) Ltd (“John Reid”) is a large family-owned company which is a specialist contractor in the design, sale and construction of steel-framed buildings.

Mr Dean was a project manager. He commenced working for the company in 2014 and performed well, scoring 88% in his last appraisal.

In 2016 Mr Dean, although happy with his job, placed his CV with a company called “CV Library”. He was not actively seeking a job but thought that his career progression would be assisted by doing so. CVs are stored on CV Library on the basis that they are shown to subscribers but may not be released to the employer of a candidate (or to anyone else) without the candidate’s express permission.

At approximately the same time John Reid was looking to recruit more people to fulfil the role occupied by Mr Dean, and recruited a headhunter to help them do so. The headhunter had a subscription to CV Library and came across Mr Dean’s CV.

The headhunter disclosed to Simon Boyd (Managing Director at John Reid) that Mr Dean’s CV was on CV Library (violating the terms of confidentiality) and on 18 October 2016 Mr Boyd summoned Mr Dean to his office to explain this issue. Mr Boyd subsequently suspended Mr Dean on the same day on the basis that Mr Dean had breached confidentiality by disclosing on his CV that John Reid worked in certain countries. Mr Boyd subsequently commenced the company’s disciplinary procedure and convened a disciplinary hearing for 24 October 2016.

John Reid investigated the allegations against Mr Dean in the course of one day, with these investigations consisting of Mr Boyd asking Human Resources to investigate and report. The two disciplinary allegations that Mr Boyd asked to be investigated were as follows: firstly, “that Wayne Dean has been actively seeking employment elsewhere whilst our in our by uploading his personal VB to an active job searching website” and, secondly, “Wayne Dean has been in breach of the company’s confidentiality arrangements by disclosing sensitive market areas where we currently work and other areas we are actively developing future markets.”

The conclusion of the investigation was that there was a case to answer on Mr Dean’s behalf, as it was found that CV Library only took CVs from people who were actively seeking employment and that the disclosure of John Reid’s activities on his CV conflicted with his contract of employment and stand-alone confidentiality agreement.

Mr Cook subsequently took the decision to dismiss Mr Dean on allegations that he had breached confidentiality, and found that this allegation constituted gross misconduct. Mr Dean appealed but his appeal was dismissed.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Dean v John Reid & Sons (Strucsteel) Ltd

The Employment Tribunal upheld Mr Dean’s claim for unfair dismissal, holding that there had been a failure to carry out a reasonable investigation and that Mr Boyd did not have a genuine and reasonable belief in the allegations.

Our solicitors’ view on Dean v John Reid & Sons (Strucsteel) Ltd

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must ensure that disciplinary processes are carried out fairly, with a reasonable investigation undertaken and, on the back of that investigation, a fair and reasonable decision made to dismiss. A failure to do so can potentially mean that a former employee may succeed with a claim for unfair dismissal (should they have sufficient qualifying service to make such a claim.”

The judgments of the Employment Tribunal can be found here.