National firm Weightmans acted within the law to sack a long-serving staff member over her internet usage whilst at work, an employment tribunal has found.
Employment Judge Warren, sitting at the Liverpool tribunal, dismissed the claim of unfair dismissal against the firm lodged by a former facilities assistant named as Mrs T Hall.
Hall, who had worked for Weightmans for almost 24 years, had been invited to an investigatory meeting by the firm after she brought her adult daughter and two young grandchildren onto the premises during her lunch break, before leaving them unaccompanied in the client suite area. At one point a toddler was seen crawling towards automatic sliding doors and it was considered both children were at risk.
During the investigatory meeting, Hall alleged she had been working on her computer whilst her family had been on site. Her search history subsequently showed that at the material time she had been online but not for work purposes.
Further investigation of her internet usage found hundreds of entries for sites such as Shoeaholic, Ryanair, Easyjet and Debenhams.
A date was set for a private meeting with the Weightmans office manager, but the day before Hall was involved in an argument with a colleague about covering an evening event. It was alleged during this exchange that Hall used the word ‘twat’. It was corroborated by two Weightmans concierges that the colleague had come away from the argument visibly upset and saying Hall had used offensive words.
Hall, who had a clean disciplinary record to that point, was dismissed after findings of gross misconduct. An internal appeal concluded the incident with the family justified only a final warning, but misuse of the internet during work hours – exacerbated by her account for the argument with the colleague – justified dismissal.
Hall brought her unfair dismissal claim to the employment tribunal, saying she had taken the blame for the internet usage when she had been searching sites on a colleague’s behalf. She asserted she had not used abusive language during the argument on the premises and said the colleague had been aggressive.
Employment Judge Warren said Weightmans’ handling of the procedure, at least at the internal appeal, was ‘text book’.
Hall had been accompanied by her husband, an experienced trade union official, throughout the entire procedure. The judge found every meeting had been minuted and that Hall had been made aware of the outcome with supporting paperwork and given a final chance to comment, with the ultimate decision falling within the range of reasonable responses.