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An employer fairly dismissed an employee for bringing in offensive material, by way of a mug. What protected the employer when challenged?

In Reed v CF Fertilisers UK Ltd 2017
On 20 April 2016, Ms Conlin (C) went into the staff kitchen to make a cup of tea and noticed a mug in the cupboard featuring two owls. Someone had graffitied a conversation on it which read: “Twit woo who the f**k’s that lanky bitch, the who*e, we’re gonna f**k her up, what a liberty ”. C believed this was directed at her as she was tall and had been newly appointed to review staff roles.

C made a complaint in writing, and CF Fertilisers (CF) underwent an investigation. Reed (R) admitted that he had brought the cup into work for a colleague, Lane (L), and said that the graffitied conversation related to L’s ex-girlfriend. Whilst he claimed that he had not seen the cup since then, R was apologetic about bringing it into work and any upset caused. At the disciplinary hearing R accepted the language used was inappropriate and offensive but denied it was targeted at C.

The disciplinary hearing chairman noted that CF had a robust equal opportunities policy and R had received nearly three hours’ training on it. Therefore ‘R’ knew, , or ought to have known, that bringing offensive material into work may amount to gross misconduct. R was dismissed. Having lost an internal appeal ‘R’ then claimed unfair dismissal. The tribunal held that the employer’s policy was clear regarding zero tolerance of offensive material and the potential consequences of any breach. As a result, and despite his remorse, R’s unfair dismissal claim failed.

Conclusion: This ruling demonstrates the legal protection that a robust equal opportunities policy can offer you But a policy alone is not enough; all staff must receive adequate training on it. For a free Equal Opportunities Policy please contact enquiries@christinaltd.co.uk, stating MUGGED OFF in the subject field.

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