Performance Management HR Case Study

Performance Management HR Case Study

Performance Management HR Case Study

A tribunal found that a senior executive at a FTSE 250 firm had a successful claim for unfair dismissal, victimisation, and age discrimination after being dismissed without warning and replaced by a younger employee

The Case

During a group executive committee meeting, the company CEO addressed senior managers and stated “these millennials will never stop until they have my job and you older guys had better get used to it.” After the meeting, the claimant (Mr Cowie) made a diary note that the CEO had given him a 45 minute ‘lecture’ during which he called him an “old fossil” and stated that he “did not know how to deal with millennials”

The claimant had previously been a part of a recruitment campaign to attract college leavers (as the company recognised that a group of managers would be retiring at the same time without potential successors) and subsequently received a letter from the CEO informing him that there would be a ‘recruitment drive’ for candidates with a maximum age of 45. He also heard in various meetings the CEO state that the company needed to “get younger”, and Mr Cowie was given a personal objective to dismiss four senior executives, all of whom were high performers but aged between 45 and 62 years old

Mr Cowie did not feel comfortable in dismissing executives that were performing well and so did not fulfil the objective. He was the set “unfair and arbitrary business targets” which proved difficult to achieve due to a market downturn and rising raw material costs

As a result of his ‘poor performance’ Mr Cowie was relocated for a 6 month period to another office, and was to have his performance monitored. He received recognition some weeks later in an email from the CEO that his performance had improved, yet several months after that email was sent to Mr Cowie he was informed by the CEO that he was to be dismissed for poor performance. The CEO claimed that it would have “been disruptive” if Mr Cowie had been notified of his potential dismissal beforehand

He was placed on garden leave and submitted a grievance, in which he alleged age discrimination. The grievance was investigated by a senior manager and they stated that it was “rare” for senior executives such as Mr Cowie to go through a formal performance management process, and that he was dismissed for “unsatisfactory results”

Mr Cowie appealed the decision and also asked the company to explore alternatives to dismissal such as redeployment (he noted there were several vacancies within the company that were suitable) but his requests were ignored, and his employment was terminated

The Tribunal Decision

The tribunal found that age was “one of the factors” that led to Mr Cowie’s dismissal, and he was not subject to a proper dismissal process but, had he been younger, he would likely have been treated more favourably. Other findings were:

  • The fact that the claimant was “never subject to a formal performance process” and was not given an “advance written notification of a possible dismissal and the reasons for it” meant that the dismissal fell outside of the range of reasonable responses and was therefore unfair
  • By failing to properly investigate the allegations in the grievance and continue with the dismissal the claimant was victimised
  • The tribunal found that the behaviour of the company throughout the process was unreasonable, and the claims made by Mr Cowie of unfair dismissal, victimisation, and age discrimination were all upheld

Case Summary

This case clearly shows the importance of having a detailed and carefully worded performance management policy and procedure, and this process being implemented fairly and consistently throughout the company

It also highlights the importance of a fair and reasonable investigation, disciplinary, and appeal process that MUST followed at all times

The use of language that could be discriminatory or cause offence is also something senior managers need to be conscious of in order to avoid costly discrimination or harassment claims. Having clearly defined policies on bullying & harassment will help educate and prevent costly mistakes

You can ensure that your Performance Management HR procedures are robust with our Performance Management HR  Policy and Pack

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