22/05/2015

By Georgina Read, Co-Founder and Director of citrusHR

Notice periods can feel like employment ‘limbo’ for employers and employees alike, especially during redundancy when staff know they are losing their job rather than leaving of their own volition.

However, this doesn’t mean employment practices go out of the window. Employees have a responsibility to work their notice period diligently, rather than just taking it as ‘wind-down’ time. But, what does this mean for an employer? Especially if an extended notice period means they’re getting less productivity from their staff member.

Well, the case of Leeds United FC and (now former) senior manager – Mr. Williams – would suggest that employers potentially have more power than they might think. However, as you will see, Leeds Utd didn’t go about it in a manner we would recommend!

Mr. Williams had been given 12 months’ notice of redundancy from the Club as a result of restructuring. This was set to cost the Club Williams’ salary of £200,000, so they decided to try to uncover historical reasons to fire him without notice.

In order to do this, the Club hired investigators to trawl through years of emails. As a result it was discovered that some years before, Mr. Williams had sent pornographic emails to a junior colleague. As this constitutes gross misconduct on Williams’ part, he was subsequently dismissed without notice by Leeds Utd.

Luckily for the Football Club, even though they had begun the investigation into Mr. Williams to find a reason to dismiss, the court found they were in fact entitled to remove him from his position during the notice period. His misconduct, even though it had taken place before the reorganisation leading to his redundancy, was sufficiently serious because it could have opened the Club up to a claim of sexual harassment.

The method that Leeds Utd. used here is certainly not one that we would ever suggest to anyone, especially a small business, as it is a very high risk strategy. However, the ruling does show employers are not powerless to remove staff, even during a notice period.

As always, when considering a dismissal, it is wise to follow procedure closely. Ensure that all evidence is collected thoroughly (and sensibly) so that there is little chance that unfair or wrongful dismissal can be claimed.

So in theory – as long as you follow procedure properly and have the evidence to do so – if an employee commits gross misconduct, they can be sacked immediately, even during a notice period.

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