Baby P social workers lose appeal over disciplinary action

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Haringey Council’s decision to start a second set of disciplinary proceedings against social workers involved in the Baby P case did not make their dismissals unfair.

Prior to the trial of the mother of Peter Connelly, known at the time as Baby P, Haringey Council took disciplinary action against two social workers, who were originally disciplined according to the council’s simplified disciplinary procedure.

Under this process, employer and employee were required to agree to the simplified procedure being adopted and the employee was not entitled to appeal any warning imposed.

Following Connelly’s mother’s guilty plea in the criminal proceedings, a report concluded that the social workers’ original disciplinary proceedings had been “blatantly unsafe, unsound and inadequate”. Fresh disciplinary action was subsequently taken against the social workers and they were dismissed.

The social workers brought claims of unfair dismissal, but these were rejected by the employment tribunal; the tribunal decision was then upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

At the Court of Appeal, the main issue was whether or not a “double jeopardy” rule for disciplinary proceedings applies in unfair dismissal cases. However, the Court of Appeal held that no such rule applies.

Stephen Simpson, senior employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “This is an important decision for employers – particularly those in the public sector – that have multi-layered disciplinary procedures and may have to revisit issues as a result of external pressure; for example, adverse publicity or government reports.

“While cases like this will be rare, employers can rely on this case as authority for starting a new disciplinary process in exceptional circumstances, such as those involving the Baby P social workers.”

For further information on the Court of Appeal decision, see XpertHR’s coverage.

XpertHR also has further detail on issues arising from the Baby P case, as well as information on disciplinary procedures.

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