Refusing to work leads to fair dismissal.

You are entitled to stand up for your rights in your workplace but, without specialist legal advice, it is only too easy to overstep the mark into intransigence. The point could hardly have been more clearly made than by the case of a senior manager who simply refused to work unless his employer yielded to his point of view.

The man, who was paid £;90,000 a year as senior vice president of a management services company, had to take almost a year off work due to a back condition. On his return to work, his employer took the view that he needed to get up to speed after such a long absence and placed him on restricted duties.

He, however, insisted that he be permitted to resume his role in full and refused to work at all unless his employer agreed to this. The employer took the view that his stance was unacceptable and, following a disciplinary process, he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

After he launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) upheld his disability discrimination claim on the limited basis that he had effectively been demoted on his return to work and that the employer had wrongly failed to give him any clear indication as to when he could resume his full duties.

The ET also found that his dismissal was procedurally unfair, in that the disciplinary hearing had been conducted with unnecessary haste and the appeal procedure was perfunctory. However, it went on to rule that his refusal to return to work on the limited basis proposed by the employer constituted gross misconduct that would have justified his dismissal had a fair procedure been adopted. The ET’s ruling was subsequently confirmed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In dismissing his challenge to that decision, the Court of Appeal found that his justified belief that he should have been allowed to return to his old role immediately was not sufficient reason for him to refuse to do any work at all. He was fit to work and was receiving full pay at the time, but had refused to work unless his employer yielded to his position on an issue that was genuinely in dispute. Even though he was right on that issue, the ET was entitled to find that his refusal was unacceptable.

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