The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Lafferty v Nuffield Health that it is reasonable for an employer to dismiss an employee because their reputation might be damaged as a result of criminal allegations made against the employee, even if they have not been convicted. However, there has to be a connection between the allegations and the potential for suffering damage.

Basic facts

Mr Lafferty worked as a porter for a hospital owned by Nuffield Health, a not for profit charity. His job mainly involved transporting anaesthetised patients to and from operating theatres. Throughout the 20-plus years he worked for them, he had an unblemished disciplinary record. 

Following an incident unconnected with work, he was arrested and charged with a serious sexual offence, a charge he denied. Following an investigation, his employer decided they only had two options. One was to suspend him on full pay until the trial, but as no one knew when that might be, it decided that this was not a proper use of charitable funds. The other option was to dismiss him. The hospital decided that, by continuing to employ him, the risk to its reputation where he had access to vulnerable patients was too great, particularly given the fact that the charity commission had flagged up to charities the need to be concerned about the risk of reputational damage.

Mr Lafferty appealed unsuccessfully against the decision to dismiss him, although his employer agreed that if he were acquitted or the charges dropped, he would be reinstated. Mr Lafferty claimed unfair dismissal.

Tribunal decision

The tribunal held that the reason for dismissal (the risk of reputational damage) was a potentially fair reason and was within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer in the circumstances of the case.

Mr Lafferty appealed on two grounds. Firstly, that the tribunal had failed to consider whether his employer had carried out a reasonable investigation into the matter, given that they had not bothered to find out about the potential outcomes of the case, the timescales involved and the evidence available. Secondly, he argued that it was not reasonable to treat the risk of reputational damage as a sufficient reason to dismiss in all the circumstances

EAT decision

Although the EAT dismissed the appeal, it held that it was not enough for an employer to dismiss an employee facing a criminal charge just because they were concerned about their reputation. Instead there would have to be a relationship between the allegations and the potential that they would suffer damage. So for instance, if the criminal charge related to a serious driving offence but the employee was not required to undertake any driving duties, then continuing to employ that person would not be likely to have an adverse effect on reputation or at any rate nothing so serious as to justify dismissing them.

In this case, however, the hospital had drawn a direct link between the nature of the charges against Mr Lafferty and the risk to its reputation, not least because of the vulnerable patients at its premises. This was a reasonable conclusion to draw, even though Mr Lafferty had not been convicted.

In addition, the investigation was sufficient (indeed the EAT noted that it would be hard to know what more the hospital could have done) and the ultimate decision to dismiss was not because they thought Mr Lafferty was guilty of the charge but because they were concerned about their reputation.

The EAT therefore held that the tribunal had not made a mistake when it concluded that the dismissal – for some other substantial reason - fell within the band of reasonable responses.


This is an unhelpful judgment for claimants dismissed where there are unproven allegations of criminal conduct, although it should be borne in mind that the EAT emphasised that each case will turn on its own facts. It should also be borne in mind that Mr Lafferty had been charged by the Crown of an offence, something the EAT commented indicated a greater reliability into a claimant’s conduct than, for example, an investigative body making disclosures as to an employee’s unproven conduct. A tribunal may less readily consider issues of potential reputational damage which concern unproven criminal allegations which fall short of a decision by the Crown to charge.