A Timpson employee who threatened to “shoot” a colleague was unfairly dismissed because of the way the company handled the disciplinary process, an employment tribunal has found.
Mr Pemberton, who was the company’s national locksmith manager, made the comments in November 2018 during an informal telephone conversation with a scheduling team leader he considered a friend.
Handling a grievance
At one point during the call, the scheduling team leader asked whether Pemberton had heard the news about one of the locksmiths in the central Scotland region being dismissed and suggested the company might be able to cope without replacing him.
In response, Pemberton said: “I swear to God if you say that I want to f**king shoot you, not under any f**king circumstances say that in passing to anybody because you’d be my own worst enemy doing that. Honestly, we need, we need four in the central belt.”
The scheduling team leader complained about Pemberton’s conduct to a company director the following day. He said he felt he had been threatened by Pemberton and was worried that working with him would become difficult if he did not raise the matter, but indicated that he was not too upset by the comments.
Pemberton was suspended later that week, pending an investigation. He was informed that an allegation about the use of threatening and abusive language had been made against him.
During an investigation meeting a recording of the conversation was played and Pemberton apologised for his comments. He said he never meant any malice by them and explained that he used the language because he felt comfortable with the colleague and felt he could express himself candidly. He did not accept he had threatened him.
A disciplinary meeting was held later that month and he was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct. A letter informed him that it was unacceptable for him as a senior manager to threaten a colleague, particularly one over whose career and working environment he could have an influence.
However, following a hearing at the Manchester employment tribunal, a judge found that the company’s decision to dismiss Pemberton had been unreasonable.
During the hearing, Timpson denied that its decision to dismiss Pemberton was unfair. It argued that, even if there were deficiencies in the disciplinary process, these would have made no difference to the final outcome.
“I do not, though, think the respondent had reasonable grounds to conclude that Mr Pemberton was not sorry for what he had done. He had expressed sorrow and regret on several occasions and had wanted the opportunity to convey that to [the senior team leader] personally,” Judge Jonathan Holbrook said in the tribunal’s decision.
“Nor do I think the respondent had reasonable grounds to conclude that the incident had had such a serious impact on [the colleague]. Neither [investigating managers] Mr Sharpe nor Mr Sabey themselves asked [the senior team leader] about the incident in any detail, and a more thorough review of the evidence that was readily available would have shown that STL himself said that the alleged threat had not scared him as such [sic] as they thought. Nor does it seem to have exacerbated any underlying stress or anxiety he may have been suffering from.”
The tribunal said the company should have taken into account the fact that the comments were made during an informal phone call; Pemberton’s expression of remorse; Pemberton’s long service and clean disciplinary record; and the unlikelihood of the behaviour happening again.
An award for compensation has not yet been made, but the judge indicated that it should be reduced by 25% to reflect the level to which Pemberton contributed to his dismissal.