Dismissal for persistent lateness was far
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) had to consider whether the Employment Tribunal (ET) was right in rejecting an unfair dismissal claim due to an employee being late by only 2-3 minutes at a time.
In the case of Tinjani v House of Commons Commission, the claimant worked as a cleaner between 2015 and 2019. In December 2017, she was given a first written warning for lateness because she had arrived late on 17 out of 20 days. Her timekeeping didn’t improve, so she was issued with a final written warning in April 2018; this stated that, if she continued to arrive late, she may be dismissed.
The employee was late on a further 43 occasions, arriving between 2 and 33 minutes late each time. As a result, she was dismissed in May 2019. The employee appealed the decision, saying that other employees had been late but had not been dismissed. In rejecting her appeal, the employer highlighted that, unlike others, no significant improvement to her arrival times had been shown after being issued with a final written warning. The employer further explained that, even if they discounted the times when she was only late by a few minutes, the overall number of times she had been late was still unacceptable.
The employee proceeded to raise a claim for unfair dismissal, arguing that her dismissal was a disproportionate sanction and that no reason was given to explain why her periods of lateness had a negative impact on the business.
The ET rejected her claim, finding that the employer does not have to show actual loss or damage suffered as a result of employee lateness, nor did they have to wait for there to be a negative impact on the business in order to proceed with formal action. The ET further decided that it was not necessary to disregard lateness that was only 2-3 minutes and agreed fully with the employer’s argument that employees should arrive with sufficient time to be ready to start their duties from the time they are being paid for; their arrival time should not, in essence, be their start time, since pre-work preparations will likely be necessary (e.g. taking off coat, getting uniform on, leaving belongings in a safe place etc.).
Following an appeal by the employee to the EAT, the judge fully agreed with the decision of the ET and rejected her case once again. It reiterated the point made by the ET about the difference between being present at work and being ready and available to begin work at the contracted time, affirming that the latter is needed.
Furthermore, the EAT confirmed that the employer does not have to show that there was a knock-on impact of her lateness, not that it caused any detriment to the organisation. The employer’s application of a fair disciplinary process and issuance of a series of warnings, which ultimately led to the employee’s dismissal, was sufficient in this case without the need for further evidence.