Can a tribunal hear evidence about 'protected conversations' in an unfair dismissal case?
Yes, if the date of termination is in dispute, held the EAT in Basra v BJSS Limited.
Pre-termination discussions between employer and employee are protected under section 111A Employment Rights Act 1996 and cannot therefore usually be referred to by either party in an unfair dismissal claim, unless there has been "improper behaviour". In Basra, however, the EAT held that there is an exception to this rule if the date of termination is in dispute.
The Claimant wrote an email to the Respondent in response to a without prejudice offer letter it had sent saying "today will be the last day at BJSS". The Claimant then stopped attending work, and later brought a claim for unfair dismissal. BJSS argued the Claimant's employment had ended by mutual termination and, in the alternative, the email was a resignation. The Claimant denied resigning and said he had been dismissed by BJSS at a later date. The tribunal, following Faithorn Farrell Timms LLP v Bailey, noted that s111A protection cannot be waived (unlike without prejudice negotiations) and excluded BJSS's offer letter as protected under s111A ERA.
The EAT held that as the protection under s111A only applies to pre-termination negotiations, "the chronological line between what is, and what is not, admissible therefore lies on the point at which the contract is terminated". The EAT went on to say that "where there is a dispute as to whether or not the contract was terminated on a particular date, the tribunal would not be in a position to say what evidence should be excluded until that dispute is determined". Thus the tribunal needs to determine the termination date before applying s111A.
Thanks to David Leslie of Lyons Davidson for preparing this case summary.