When is a Final Written Warning not the last word?

A recent employment tribunal which reached the Court of Appeal underlined two vital lessons; the importance of proper procedures and the cost and time which employment tribunals can incur.

In the long-running case of Davies v Sandwell, a teacher was dismissed by Sandwell Council for minor misconduct whilst on a final written warning relating to another matter. She argued that the warning was unfair and should not be relied upon, and that the final act of misconduct was minor and would not itself have led to dismissal. However the Court disagreed – the fact that there was a final written warning in place made dismissal, even for a minor infringement, a reasonable action.

Theresa Mimnagh, Associate Director at Lawspeed said: “Final written warnings are a useful tool; in effect they give an employee one last chance, so that they understand that if there is any further misconduct or a repetition of behaviour within a certain period the employment will be terminated. It helped Sandwell Council in this case.

“However, this case is an extreme example of how lengthy and expensive the tribunal process can be for all concerned.  The warning under discussion was issued in 2004 and the teacher dismissed in 2006, but the case has only just been resolved.”

The original tribunal hearing took 24 days and was followed by four review applications, an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and then the Court of Appeal. A remitted tribunal hearing followed, then a further appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and finally this Court of Appeal case in April 2013. 

Mimnagh continued: “It is not clear why this case took so long, it is certainly the exception rather than the rule. However, it is worrying that the system allowed so much time and, no doubt, public money to be spent over a seven year period. I doubt that this could happen now that the government is helpfully tightening up the rules but there is still scope for abuse if a claim is not handled properly.”


Call Lawspeed on 01273 236 236 or email info@lawspeed.com