Employers should be less worried about setting and following precedents for dismissing staff and have the confidence to treat each case on its merits, it was claimed today.
It follows a recent controversial Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling.
Tim Lang, partner and head of employment at Black Country law firm George Green, says employers can take into account the circumstances around the breach by an employee of their terms and conditions in determining whether or not they dismiss them, rather than having to react in the same manner to each offence.
"This ruling takes some pressure off employers to be bound by apparent precedents they have set in treating staff and gives them more leeway in allowing them to decide on each case according to the actions of each individual," said Mr Lang, who is based in George Green's Cradley Heath offices.
The case which has determined the latest ruling centres around two joiners in Liverpool who were sacked for moonlighting.
An employment tribunal ruled that as another employee had previously not been dismissed for the same offence, the joiners' dismissals were unfair, but reduced their compensation by 75 per cent for their contributory conduct.
However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found two differences in circumstances - the earlier employee had admitted his guilt, whereas the joiners had lied; and the previous employee had 30 years' service, while the two new employees had only recently completed their apprenticeships.
The EAT ruled that it was reasonable for the employer to regard these differences as distinguishing features and to impose different sanctions on the employees.
"At a time when increased numbers of employment regulations are constantly reducing the room for manoeuvre for employers, it is gratifying that this decision gives some power back to employers to make individual decisions," noted Mr Lang.