Employment Law Case: Webb v London Underground
Joanna Rose · June 15th 2023 · read
In Webb v London Underground, the employment tribunal held that a train manager who posted offensive remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement was unfairly dismissed.
Ms Webb worked for London Underground for 32 years until her dismissal in 2021. She was employed at the Seven Sisters depot, a culturally diverse area. In June 2020, she posted a number of comments on Facebook relating to the killing of George Floyd, including "Never deserved to be murdered by a policeman. But… really was not a nice guy." She was identifiable as a London Underground employee on her profile.
Another of her posts stated, "On 22 May 2013, no-one rioted in the UK when two black men hacked Lee Rigby to death. It's time to bring back the death penalty. Where were you all then? 'All lives matter’.”
Following complaints by colleagues, London Underground investigated Ms Webb and then suspended her. She was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing in February 2021. She appealed, claiming that she was entitled to post her views on her Facebook account and that London Underground were denying her right to freedom of speech. Her appeal was dismissed.
Ms Webb brought a claim for unfair dismissal claim in the employment tribunal.
The tribunal agreed Ms Webb's posts were offensive, racially divisive, and inflammatory. It found that her right to freedom of speech had been restricted but that this was justified. It was satisfied that London Underground had reasonable grounds to dismiss her for gross misconduct.
The tribunal found, however, that the dismissal was unfair because of the procedural irregularities. The disciplining manager had adopted an attitude towards Ms Webb’s trade union representative which meant that he did not engage with the points he was making. The chair of the appeal panel admitted that he had not read any of the investigation documents, only the four posts in question, and the tribunal believed that the appeal was a box ticking exercise.
The tribunal did conclude that her compensation should be reduced by 75% due to her conduct; she was awarded £3,564.
This case highlights the importance of following a fair disciplinary procedure, particularly when seeking to dismiss for gross misconduct. Even where a fair reason is established, a dismissal may be unfair if there are procedural irregularities. HR Solutions can advise you on how to conduct a fair procedure and so minimise claims for unfair dismissal.
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