In cases of misconduct, it is good practice for employers to carry out an investigation. However, in Beattie v Condorrat War Memorial Social Club and ors, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that even though the employer did not carry out an investigation into missing stock, the warning they issued was still valid and appropriate. 

Basic facts

Ms Beattie had worked as a bar steward in the social club since July 2008. In May 2015, during a stock taking exercise, two cases of vodka (24 bottles) and two bottles of brandy were found to be missing. Ms Beattie was responsible for the banking and ordering of stock, but was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for the missing bottles.  

After admitting that she was at least partially responsible for the stock having gone missing (and after offering to pay the cost of the missing bottles), she was issued with a final written warning in July 2015 which was to remain on her record for 12 months. Ms Beattie carried out an investigation into the reason for the stock going missing, but the club itself did not.

In December 2015, Ms Beattie was asked on a number of occasions to sell tickets behind the bar for a function the following month. She refused to do so explaining that if money went missing she was concerned what would happen to her as she was already on a final written warning. She was then suspended on full pay and, following an investigation, was dismissed at the end of December for refusing to obey a legitimate and reasonable instruction.

Tribunal decision

The tribunal held firstly that issuing a final written warning following the discovery of missing stock (for which Ms Beattie was responsible) was both appropriate and valid.

It then held that, as the final written warning was valid at the time of dismissal, the decision to dismiss was fair. However, the failure of the club to follow a fair procedure rendered it unfair. It then went on to hold that it was satisfied that even if the club had followed a fair procedure (a disciplinary hearing followed by an appeal), there was a 100 per cent chance that Ms Beattie would still have been dismissed. As such, she was not entitled to any compensation (known as a Polkey deduction).

Ms Beattie appealed against the decision that the final written warning was valid at the time of the second incident of misconduct. This was the first time that any stock had gone missing during her seven years working as a bar steward, during which time she had taken delivery of approximately 1400 cases of vodka. There was a procedure in place which had not failed before, yet the club did not carry out an investigation to find out why it had failed on this occasion.

EAT decision

The EAT noted that, as a significant amount of stock had gone missing and it was Ms Beattie who had responsibility for the stock taking procedures, it was for the club to decide whether the conduct was sufficiently serious to merit a final written warning.

Generally speaking, earlier decisions by an employer should not be reopened by a tribunal unless the warning was so unreasonable that it would have been “manifestly inappropriate” for the club to have issued it. The tribunal in this case concluded that it was both valid and appropriate and the EAT could not see that the tribunal had acted perversely in coming to that decision. 

The appeal was therefore rejected.