The recent decision of the EAT in Robert Bates Wrekin Landscapes Ltd v Knight serves as a reminder to employers that any express contractual provisions for summary termination of employment must be very clearly drafted. In this case, the EAT interpreted the termination provision against the backdrop of the general principle that a summary dismissal is not justified unless there has been gross misconduct or gross negligence.
There was an express termination provision in the employees contract of employment which said the employer could dismiss the employee if they breached customer’s security requirements. Relying on this clause the employer dismissed the employee as it was alleged that he had some bolts in his van which he had stolen from a customer.
Despite the express provision in his contract of employment the EAT held that the employer was not allowed to rely on the clause in order to dismiss the employee without notice.
The EAT interpreted the termination provision against the principle that summary dismissal is not justified unless there has been gross misconduct or gross negligence on the part of the employee. As such, they found that although the employee had breached the customers security requirements, the breach was not deliberate or serious enough to justify summary dismissal and as a result the claimant was successful in his claim for unfair dismissal.
The EAT said that ‘it is important to keep general principles of contractual interpretation in mind’ when interpreting dismissal clauses. Therefore such clauses must be drafted very clearly and carefully bearing in mind these principals.