Stuart v London City Airport

Stuart v London City Airport

The employee in the Stuart v London City Airport case worked at the airport and had a good record until he was dismissed for alleged theft from the airport duty free shop.

The employee had picked up a number of items in the shop and was in the queue but then went over to talk to a colleague who was at a seating area just outside the shop whilst he was still holding the items. He was then approached by a police officer and accused of stealing. He was suspended whilst the employer carried out an investigation.

The employee maintained that he had no intention of stealing and his main argument throughout the process was that he had not left the shop ‘area’. During the investigation witness statements were taken which suggested that the employee had concealed some items under his coat whilst still in the shop, and the layout of the shop was also examined, which resulted in the conclusion that the employee must have realised that he had left the shop area. However, CCTV footage of what happened in the shop was not reviewed because the employer decided that the employee’s main argument (about leaving the shop) was dishonest and this was enough for them to form a reasonable view as to his credibility versus that of the other witnesses as to what he did in the shop.

The employee was dismissed and was also subject to criminal proceedings. He was actually acquitted in the Criminal Court but his dismissal (following appeals to the EAT and the Court of Appeal) was found to have been fair.

What this means for you
The Stuart v London City Airport case is a reminder that in misconduct cases the employer’s procedural obligation is to carry out as much investigation as is reasonable in the circumstances and to reach a reasonable decision based on that evidence – which is to be judged objectively. Provided they have done so, it is not for a Tribunal to decide that they would have made a different decision.

In hindsight, it is difficult to predict at the time of dismissal what a future Tribunal will make of the ‘reasonableness’ of an investigation so it is a fairly brave employer who would decide not to review evidence such as CCTV footage where it is available. However, on the particular facts the employer was able to demonstrate that it was not necessary once the employee’s main line of defence had clearly been ruled out, demonstrating that reasonableness does not necessarily mean exhausting all possible lines of enquiry. It also reminds employers that they do not need to shy away from dealing with a disciplinary issue just because criminal proceedings are also possible or are ongoing. There is a much higher level of ‘proof’ required for a criminal conviction so an employer is entitled to reach a different decision. The key is that they need to have carried their own reasonable process and can fully explain the findings and decision they have made.

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