If an employee is found to have been unfairly dismissed, tribunals can make an order for re-engagement. In Oasis Community Learning v Wolff, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that re-engagement may still be appropriate for an employee who made serious allegations against colleagues at one workplace but who was ordered to return to a different workplace.
Mr Wolff started working for Oasis (a company which specialised in taking over and turning round failing schools) in March 2008 as Learning Director of Maths. Following allegations that he was too confrontational when dealing with difficult pupils, he was suspended in April 2009 and dismissed with effect from 19 May 2010.
He brought a claim of unfair dismissal among other things.
After it became increasingly clear that his dismissal had been badly handled, Oasis agreed on the fourth day of the hearing that it had unfairly dismissed Mr Wolff. A remedies hearing was then set for the end of February 2012.
At that hearing, the tribunal decided that Mr Wolff should be re-engaged by the company, albeit at a different school on an annual salary of £40,433, on condition that he withdraw all his existing complaints.
Oasis appealed against the order on the basis that Mr Wolff was vindictive and vexatious and “not fit to teach anybody”. It also said that since the beginning of the dispute Mr Wolff had harassed Oasis and members of its staff with aggressive correspondence making offensive and untrue allegations, including allegations that it had fabricated evidence.
The EAT dismissed the appeal, holding that the tribunal had not misdirected itself. By deciding that Mr Wolff should be re-engaged at a different school, it had acknowledged that although there might be difficulties, there was no reason why he could not have a reasonable working relationship with new colleagues in a different school where he had “no history to live down”.
If the tribunal had thought that it was inevitable that sooner rather than later he would cause trouble at the new school by “raising his principles at every opportunity” it might well have judged that his re-engagement was impracticable. But it evidently did not think that would happen.
Although the tribunal could understand that Mr Wolff might be considered a “troublemaker” by some employers, it was impressed by him and regarded him as essentially the injured party. The fact that it required Mr Wolff to give an undertaking not to continue to pursue “the present battle” simply reflected a way of reinforcing his expressed good intentions, not because it thought he would not behave himself in the future.
The point to remember, said the EAT, was that just because an employee has made serious allegations against colleagues or managers at one workplace does not necessarily mean they will impact on the relationship they will have with colleagues and managers at a different workplace (in this case, one which was 200 miles away).