TUPE has been in the news again this month. If the sole or principal reason for a dismissal is a TUPE transfer, the dismissal will be automatically unfair unless there is an economic, technical or organisational (ETO) reason for it (Regulation 7(1) TUPE 2006). The Court of Appeal has recently looked at whether a dismissal for personal reasons at the time of a TUPE transfer can get the employer off the hook for unfair dismissal.
In Hare Wines v Kaur, the employee worked for a business which was taken over by Hare Wines. She had a poor relationship with a colleague, Mr Chatha, who was going to become a director of Hare Wines. The employee was dismissed before the transfer because the new company ‘did not want her’ due to this difficult relationship. Taking these facts into account, the employment tribunal decided that the transfer was the sole or principal reason for her dismissal, which was automatically unfair. The employer appealed, arguing that the sole or principal reason for the dismissal was the difficult relationship, not the transfer.
Both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court of Appeal said one of two scenarios applied: either the employee was dismissed because of the poor relationship and the TUPE transfer was coincidental; or Hare Wines did not want her on the books because of the poor relationship (which was transfer related). The employment tribunal had been entitled to decide that it was the latter which applied. The transfer was the principal reason for the dismissal, if not the sole reason.
In this case, the employee was dismissed on the day of the transfer. Close proximity between a dismissal and transfer will not be conclusive but is strong evidence in the employee’s favour. The Court of Appeal also noted that the difficult relationship had existed for some time without the employee being dismissed. That only happened when the transfer took place, at Hare Wine’s request. Employers should take great care when dismissing for non-transfer reasons when they are close to a transfer.