Johnson Mathey plc v Watters

Johnson Mathey plc v Watters, EAT, 9 October 2006


Background


Mr Watters was responsible for four production lines at Johnson Mathey. As a result of trying to resolve a technical problem by cutting through wires (which fell within three listed examples of gross misconduct in the staff handbook), he was suspended, and following a disciplinary hearing and appeal, he was dismissed.


Watters successfully claimed unfair dismissal. The tribunal ordered re-engagement in a more junior post, reflecting his own contribution to his dismissal. The employer appealed.


Decision


The tribunal’s decision was upheld. Having considered the factors the employer should have taken into account (the circumstances of the incident, the employer’s responsibilities, the employer’s failures to identify risk prior to dismissal and to pay real regard to the risk of loss or damage), the EAT held that no reasonable employer would have dismissed Watters.


The employer argued that re-engagement was not practicable as there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence. However, the EAT was not prepared to overturn the re-engagement order. In deciding there was no reason why Watters could not be successfully integrated back into the workforce, the tribunal took into account that:




  • the event leading to dismissal was an isolated incident and unlikely to re-occur


  • the employee was willing to ‘draw a line’ under the events


  • the employee’s colleagues were supportive


  • the employee did not have to report to the managers involved in his dismissal.

Comment


It is rare for a tribunal to order reinstatement or re-engagement. The tribunal stated that “in any situation in which the claimant [succeeds] there is likely to be an element of difficulty on the part of the [employer] in swallowing its pride and taking the employee back”. However, the tribunal noted that if this was to thwart a re-engagement request, then the remedy would be of no practical effect.

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