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Is it reasonable to dismiss at the request of a third party?

Yes it can be, but only if the employer has first considered whether the request is justified.

Interserve (Facilities Management) Limited had a contract with the Home Office to provide a catering service to a bail hostel. Under the terms of the contract, the Home Office could “require the removal of contractor staff whose admission would be undesirable” without giving reasons.

Mr Bancroft worked as a chef at the bail hostel. Following a falling out between him and the manager of the hostel, the Home Office wrote to Interserve asking that he be replaced. No inquiry was made into whether the request was justified. Mr Bancroft was offered an alternative role with additional travelling time, less hours and a lower salary. He refused and was then dismissed. The employment tribunal found that his dismissal had been fair.

The EAT, however, decided that the tribunal had not approached the question properly. It should have considered:

  1. whether there would be any injustice to Mr Bancroft and the extent of that injustice; and
  2. whether Interserve had done “everything they could to mitigate the injustice caused by the third party’s request that Mr Bancroft no longer work on their premises“.

The tribunal failed to explore the reasons why Interserve had not looked into the difficult working relationship between Mr Bancroft and the hostel manager before dismissing. The case was sent back to the tribunal to consider the facts in light of the EAT’s conclusions.

This decision is a reminder that, although it is potentially fair to rely on a third party’s request to dismiss an employee, an employer must act reasonably in doing so. It must consider the degree of any injustice on the employee and what alternative steps could be taken (e.g. by investigating the situation with the third party to see if it can be resolved without removing the employee).

The full case report is available here: Bancroft v Interserve.

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