Weatherford UK Ltd v Aitken, EAT/0049/03

Burden of inquiry: Aitken worked for Weatherford on its oil rigs as and when required. Due to lengthy absences from home, Aitken had domestic problems, and so had agreed to do one particular job on the condition that he could return home as soon as it was over.

His refusal to fly out to one rig on the same day as he returned from another resulted in disciplinary action.

During his hearing, Aitken did not explain what his “problems at home were”, nor did his manager enquire.

Taking his contractual terms into account, Aitken’s refusal to fly out was classed as gross misconduct, and he was summarily dismissed. Aitken accepted that he had committed a serious disciplinary offence, but appealed to a tribunal against the decision to dismiss him.

The tribunal held that the instructions given by the employer were legitimate and reasonable, but that the decision to dismiss did not fall within the range of reasonable responses, and therefore the dismissal was unfair.

Weatherford successfully appealed. The employment appeal tribunal concluded that an employer does not have an additional burden of enquiring further into the reason for an act of admitted serious misconduct if the employee, given every opportunity to do so, fails to offer any explanation for their actions. In the context of admitted misconduct and what happened at the disciplinary hearing, the decision to dismiss was fair.

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