Why a text message can cost a business thousands

Thu 5th Nov 2015

Philip Sayer of Coodes Solicitors explains why a text message is never the right way to dismiss an employee.

“The recent case of a former chef who won a case on the grounds of unfair dismissal after he was sacked by text highlights why this rapid form of communication is never appropriate for sacking an employee.

The employer suspected the chef of falsely claiming he was sick and failing to come into work. There and then he dismissed the chef by text message. Whilst there were other issues involved, the Employment Tribunal decided that the chef had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him £15,000 compensation. Had the employer taken time to investigate properly the result might have been very different.

“While it is perfectly appropriate for a manager to text a member of staff with mundane updates or informal requests (“I’m running a bit late” or “Can you bring a copy of the report to the meeting?”), communication about changes to contracts or salaries, and discussions about performance, should wherever possible be carried out face to face and then followed up with a written summary. Conversely, it is sensible to require staff to communicate properly about important things like sickness absence.

“When it comes to HR – and particularly in the unfortunate task of dismissing someone – this written summary is vital. Tribunal claims can be won or lost on the basis of a paper trail. If there is no written record, all you are left with are people’s memories – which are highly subjective and unreliable. While a text message is a record of sorts, it is far more easily lost than an email or a written letter.

“I think most people feel that sacking by text is just wrong. Text messages tend to be abrupt, because they are generally shorter than emails or letters, and they also seem too informal for something as serious as being fired. You may recall the extensive media coverage when The Accident Group made large numbers of staff redundant by text message. The company was in trouble when its parent company went into administration and the bad publicity caused by dismissing staff in such an impersonal way caused additional reputational damage.

“Unless there is a very good reason why you can’t, I would always advise employers to deal with dismissals face to face. It’s just more human that way. It means that employees get an explanation as well as being able to ask questions and give their side of the story.

“A business that sacks someone by text is immediately putting themselves on the back foot when it comes to a potential tribunal. And for a small firm, like the restaurant that was ordered to pay the chef it fired by text £15,000 in damages, the financial impact can be devastating.”

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers on 0800 328 3282 or email info@coodes.co.uk

Thu 5th Nov 2015

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