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Expired warnings taken into account

Stratford v Auto Trail VR Ltd

There is a reason why the warnings given to employees expire after a set period of time. It’s to wipe the slate clean. But, as this case shows, expired warnings aren’t always irrelevant to future disciplinary decisions.

Mr Stratford had a chequered history with his employer. His disciplinary record listed 17 items, but there were no live warnings at the time he was eventually dismissed for carrying his mobile phone while on the shop floor – something strictly prohibited by company rules. The company took the view that although the phone incident didn’t amount to gross misconduct, it was the 18th time that some formal steps (this time a final written warning) had had to be taken. The employer believed that this pattern would simply continue, and it terminated Mr Stratford’s employment.

Fair dismissal, the tribunal said. The company was entitled to take account of Mr Stratford’s disciplinary record and of his general attitude to discipline. A line had to be drawn.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed. It can be okay to take account of an employee’s record. But whether that’s reasonable or not will depend on the circumstances of the case. In Mr Stratford’s, the history of misconduct, together with a prediction of future problems, was a legitimate consideration.

Although this case isn’t the green light to factor expired warnings into future disciplinary decisions, it may well help you deal with employees who find themselves in trouble time and time again. Have a clear policy on how you will deal with repeat offenders; that’s important. And, above all, be sure that your decisions are those that a reasonable employer would make.