It will be rather difficult to make a direct claim against the person and your main action would be against the employer and the dismissal. To claim against the councillor you could have considered defamation if he had made an untruthful statement about you, but if he simply refused to answer questions or provide details then that is not going to qualify, it is only if he had made actual statements that were untrue would you have a leg to stand on. Even then, claims for defamation are very complex and expensive, you are easily looking at a five-figure sum for legal fees and there would be a lot of uncertainty, where even if you win there is no guarantee the person would be able to pay the compensation ordered. So this could end up in you spending an awful lot of money for nothing and making the situation even worse for yourself. I don’t want to give you false hope to go down that route so this is my honest and professional opinion on it.
So it means the main issue would be to do with the employer and whether they followed a fair procedure and whether they could justify the dismissal as being fair.
Legally, misconduct is a common reason for taking disciplinary action and it is also a potentially fair reason for dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996. It could be a single act of serious misconduct or a series of less serious acts over a period of time.
In order to justify that dismissal on grounds of misconduct was fair, the law requires that the employer:
- Conducts a reasonable investigation;
- Follows a fair disciplinary procedure;
- Has reasonable grounds for believing the employee was guilty; and
- Show that dismissal was a decision that a reasonable employer would have taken in the circumstances.
In addition, the employer is expected to follow the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Altogether, it means that a disciplinary procedure should be conducted as follows:
1. Investigation - a reasonable investigation is needed. What is reasonable depends entirely on the circumstances and especially the nature and seriousness of the allegations. The more serious these are, the more detailed the investigation needs to be.
2. Disciplinary hearing - if the investigation provides sufficient evidence of misconduct, the employee may be invited to attend a formal disciplinary hearing. They must be given prior notice of the hearing, including details of the allegations, allowing them time to prepare. They have the legal right to be accompanied at the hearing but only by a trade union representative or a colleague.
3. Decision and penalty - following the disciplinary, if the employer holds a genuine belief that the employee was guilty, then they can go ahead and dismiss. When deciding on whether dismissal is appropriate, the employer should consider the nature and seriousness of the offence and the employee's length of service and disciplinary record. They also need to act with a degree of consistency if other employees have previously been disciplined over similar issues. Unless the offence was one of gross misconduct, ACAS recommends that the employee should be issued with a written warning.
In summary, an employer is not expected to prove that the alleged misconduct had definitely occurred. Disciplinary action will be fair if the employer can show that it had conducted a reasonable investigation, followed a fair procedure and held a genuine belief that the employee was guilty. Finally, it must show that the penalty was a reasonable action to take in the circumstances and one that a reasonable employer would have taken.
If there are any doubts or evidence that the above requirements have not been satisfied, an appeal can be submitted to the employer straight after the disciplinary outcome is communicated. If the appeal is rejected a claim for unfair dismissal can be made in the employment tribunal. The time limit to claim is 3 months from the date of dismissal and the claimant needs to have at least 2 years' continuous service with that employer.