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Sharon Shoesmith - should she get the money?

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I've just been chatting to Nick Ferrari on LBC about Sharon Shoesmith's tribunal claim - she presented a claim on Friday at Watford employment tribunal. The headlines say she is claiming £175,000-odd, presumably made up of c. £65k for unfair dismissal and c. £110k for one year's notice.

This case raises really interesting issues. It is quite legitimate to dismiss somebody because of the serious consequences of their poor performance - even when they haven't had any previous warnings. The best-known example is Taylor v Alidair [1978] IRLR 82, where an airline pilot was unlucky enough to have the airline's chief executive in the back of his plane when he performed a hard landing. The Court of Appeal held that the potential consequences of a pilot getting something wrong were so serious that it was acceptable for an employer to dismiss without a warning, to avoid the risk of a second error of judgment.

Equally, it can be legitimate to dismiss if an employer is subject to intense third party pressure. This is normally seen where a customer insists that an individual be removed from a particular contract and there is no alternative job available for him. But there is no reason why media pressure should not suffice (and here, The Sun delivered a petition bearing 1.2 million signatures to Downing Street, David Cameron called for her dismissal and Ed Balls, the Childrens' Secretary, demanded that she be dismissed).

Other issues arise in her claim for notice pay. Apparently, Sharon Shoesmith was entitled to a year's notice, being about £110,000. The law provides than unless an employee is so incompetent that they are in repudiatory breach of contract, they are entitled to their notice pay - although here it would be a county court and not a tribunal claim due to the value. Another issue arises if an employee's contract contains a clause entitling the employer to dismiss without notice if he/she was guilty of actions bringing the employer into disrepute.