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The case of CRO Ports London Ltd v Wiltshire has reminded us that confessions in disciplinary investigations must be carefully considered.
Mr Wiltshire was a supervisor overseeing work that involved heavy lifting. He was dismissed after a container of which he was in charge fell 20 feet to the ground when being lifted. He accepted full responsibility for the incident and admitted that the procedure he had carried out for securing the container was dangerous.
Nonetheless the Tribunal upheld Mr Wiltshire’s claim for unfair dismissal. The Tribunal said that if the employer had conducted a wider investigation it would have uncovered facts which put Mr Wiltshire’s admissions into a wider context. The employer should have looked at the level of pressure its employees were working under and taken into account that Mr Wiltshire’s dangerous actions had been impacted by that pressure.
The EAT at the Appeal concluded that the Tribunal had misapplied the law and had substituted its own judgment for that of the employer rather than considering whether the employer’s decision was within “the range of reasonable responses”; the EAT remitted the case to a different Tribunal to be considered afresh.
In its decision the EAT emphasised that, even where an employee confesses, employers must still consider whether there is any conflict in the evidence. This case is a reminder to employers that it may not always be enough to close the file once a confession has been recorded.
Andrew Macmillan, Solicitor, Motor Industry Legal Services