Mr J Peters v Rock Chemicals Ltd t/a Rock Oil

At the date of his dismissal Mr Peters was 67 years old, with 16 years’ service as the Company accountant in essentially a family-run business.

In 2011, Rock Oil hired another accountant to work in a different part of the company, but who was introduced to others as Mr Peters’ successor.

However, once Mr Peters made it clear he was not going to retire upon reaching the age of 65 in 2012, the tribunal found that Rock Oil’s Chairman barely spoke to him, and Mr Peters subsequently went on sickness absence following a “hostile” internal meeting in March 2013, at which he was sworn at by Rock Oil’s Managing Director (the Chairman’s son).

Rock Oil subsequently initiated an investigation and disciplinary proceedings against Mr Peters, primarily in relation to an historic HMRC fine, and fuel stock discrepancies, leading to his summary dismissal in January 2013.

In a reserved liability judgment, an employment tribunal found that the reason for Mr Peters’ dismissal was that he had reached the age of retirement and management wanted him to retire.

When he indicated he did not want to retire, management “trumped up” charges against him in what could only be described as a threatening manner, failed to follow the recommendations of two medical reports to facilitate his return to work; lied to him about his bonus and failed to carry out a fair and objective disciplinary procedure.

The tribunal also found that Rock Oil:

  • Unreasonably singled out Mr Peters for investigation, suspended him without good reason, and denied him access to relevant information.
  • Cherry picked information that allowed them to paint a picture that would fit with the pre-determined decision to dismiss Mr Peters.
  • Gave “unreliable” witness evidence, and in particular sought to mislead the Tribunal about the non-payment of Mr Peters’ bonus when he was on sickness absence.
  • Failed to carry out a reasonable investigation into the allegations against Mr Peters and failed to make any effort to follow up and investigate matters that might have pointed to his innocence.

In November of last year, the Tribunal awarded Mr Peters £182,256.72, including the following:

  • A Basic Award of £11,136
  • A Compensatory Award for over 15 months loss of earnings and benefits of £54,666.09
  • Three years’ unpaid bonus totalling £45,000
  • An award for injury to feelings of £15,000
  • A 12.5% uplift for Rock Oil’s failure to follow the Acas Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures

The award was also subject to interest and grossed up for tax.

Seabury Beaumont partner Ian Seabury, who acted for Mr Peters from his sickness absence in 2013 until the successful conclusion of his case in November 2016, commented:

“Retirement can be a sensitive subject in the workplace, in the absence of a default retirement age and an increasing number of older employees wishing to remain in employment. Should an employee not wish to retire, an employer conducting itself so unreasonably towards a long-serving employee will find it difficult to show that the reason for the treatment had nothing to do with the employee’s age, and is therefore discriminatory.  In this instance, the employer’s initial treatment of Mr Peters was further compounded by it following a disciplinary procedure that was so unreasonable the Tribunal couldn’t help but condemn it in the strongest terms. In the Tribunal’s own words “the whole matter was a complete shambles”.