Copyright Moore Barlow LLP (Moore Blatch and Barlow Robbins merged May 2020)

Employee unfairly dismissed via ‘WhatsApp’ but not awarded compensation

In the case of Rehman v Jamia Hanfia Ghosia Mosque an employment tribunal has held that a former employee was unfairly dismissed, but was not entitled to any compensation.

Background

Mr Rehman (the Claimant) had been employed as an Imam (a Muslim leader that leads prayers in a mosque) by the Respondent since October 2003. The Respondent appointed a second Imam in September 2014, Mr Ahmed. The Respondent is governed by an elected Management Committee whose remit includes the day-to-day responsibility and management of the mosque and its employees. Prior to the appointment of the second Imam, Mr Rehman had had a discussion with Mr Hussain, the then Chairman of the Management Committee, about the possibility of bringing the Claimant’s nephew from Pakistan for him to act as a second Imam. It was eventually decided however to appoint Mr Ahmed instead of Mr Rehman’s nephew. Mr Rehman was informed of this decision in January 2014.

Mr Rehman did not respond well to the news that his nephew would not be appointed. In breach of his contract, he first resigned from his post as the Head of Education with the mosque. He subsequently invited members of the mosque to meetings where he publicly discussed his concerns about his nephew not being appointed. Once the Mr Ahmed began work at the mosque, Mr Rehman refused to pray behind him ‘without justification.’ Several meetings were later held to discuss his relationship with Mr Ahmed, complaints from attendees of the mosque that his speeches were often overrunning and ‘false’ allegations that he had made against Management committee members. Mr Rehman’s conduct did not improve and several written warnings were issued, instructing him specifically not to use the mosque space to discuss his personal issues.

Mr Rehman’s response to the written warnings was to continue to discuss his grievances in public. At a prayer meeting on the 6 March, Mr Rehman’s comments caused so much distress and anger that the police had to be called ‘to restore the peace.’ He was invited to attend a disciplinary meeting on several occasions and despite the Claimant’s non-attendance the decision was made to dismiss him for gross misconduct. Unusually, the Claimant was informed of the decision via the social media messaging service ‘WhatsApp.’ Following an unsuccessful appeal Mr Rehman, feeling that he had been unfairly dismissed, brought a tribunal claim.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision  

At the employment tribunal, Employment Judge Hutchinson agreed with the Claimant. He highlighted the fact that the procedure that was followed when dismissing him did not adhere to the ACAS Code of Conduct. He called attention to the fact that the Claimant was not made aware of the allegations against him prior to his dismissal; in the dismissal letter that eventually followed the ‘WhatsApp’ message there were 6 additional allegations that had not been referred to in previous correspondence. The Respondent also failed to provide the Claimant with any evidence they had against him and failed to follow proper procedure in the Claimant’s appeal against his dismissal.

Nevertheless, despite the above, the employment tribunal felt that in these circumstances it would not be appropriate to award the Claimant any compensation. The tribunal emphasised the fact that an Imam is a position of ‘high responsibility’ and so it was crucial that Mr Rehman should endeavour to create an atmosphere of ‘Islamic brotherhood.’ Indeed, the creation of such an atmosphere was a term of the Claimant’s employment contract. Mr Rehman’s actions however did quite the opposite and he instead undertook a course of conduct designed to undermine the Management Committee.

The decision was described as exceptional. However it serves both as a reminder of the importance of following a fair procedure when dismissing an employee but also of the fact that the employment tribunal is free to reduce a compensatory award as it judges just and equitable in the event that the Claimant is considered to have contributed to a dismissal.

If you have any queries regarding the fairness of your dismissal procedures or the terms of your employment, please do not hesitate to contact us. 


Share