Serious irregularities in a disciplinary process may justify an injunction

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Employment Up-to-Date — January 2014: serious irregularities in a disciplinary process may justify an injunction - .PDF file.

As Lord Hodge said in this case, it is not generally appropriate for the courts to intervene to remedy minor irregularities in the course of the disciplinary proceedings between employer and employee. However, where the irregularities in the process are particularly serious, whether taken on their own or cumulatively, the courts may step in and grant an injunction, rendering it unlawful for the employer to proceed with its disciplinary procedure (West London Mental Health NHS Trust v Chhabra).

The claimant was employed by the trust as a consultant forensic psychiatrist. Shortly after her appointment, problems emerged in her relationship with her clinical team. In dealing with those concerns, the claimant’s line manager took advice from the trust’s HR director. Further allegations subsequently came to light that the claimant had breached patient confidentiality when travelling by train in the company of another doctor. It was alleged that the claimant had discussed an incident involving a patient in a secure unit, read a medical report on a patient whose name and personal details could be clearly identified and, on another occasion, dictated patient reports. The trust suspended the claimant and initiated its disciplinary procedure.

The trust’s medical director took on the role of ‘case manager’ and, in line with the trust’s disciplinary procedure, appointed an independent doctor from another trust as the ‘case investigator’. At the outset of the disciplinary process, the claimant expressed concerns that the trust’s HR director (who had previously advised her line manager in relation to the problems within her clinical team) should not be involved in the disciplinary investigation. The trust’s solicitors wrote to the claimant’s solicitors and undertook that the HR director would take no part in the process. However, unknown to the claimant at the time, the trust’s HR director did then review the case investigator’s report and made significant changes to it, which had the effect of stiffening the criticism of the claimant…

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