Burden of proof does not lie with the employer

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David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

THIS WEEK IN 1975: Reunited after 30 years – but only thanks to a kind stranger

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Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q I was dismissed from my job without pay after being accused of theft. Although I can prove I didn’t steal anything, my boss decided I was guilty and sent me down the road. My solicitor told me the firm doesn’t have to prove I stole anything, but just believe I did. Can they do that, and without evidence?

SK (e-mail)

A Bosses frequently squeal that employees have it all their own way when they’re sacked and go running to an employment tribunal (ET).

But employer’s justice can be very rough justice indeed. Frequently the cards are well stacked against working people.

I’m surprised your solicitor didn’t explain further, but there is a concept in employment law of reasonable belief, which would be laughed out of court in any other context.

Surprisingly, an employer doesn’t have to prove to any normal accepted standard of proof that an employee is guilty as charged. All they have to do is have a ‘reasonable belief’ of guilt and send them packing.

But a boss who couldn’t prove something had gone missing would be skating on very thin ice if challenged at an ET.

Reasonable belief is a technical legal concept which is beyond the scope of this column to explain in any detail.

Suffice to say, to have a reasonable belief an employer has to show that you knew what you had been accused of; the accusation had been thoroughly investigated without bias or pre-determination; you’d been given an opportunity to defend yourself and it had been taken into account; a right of appeal had been offered.

If your solicitor believes these conditions have been disregarded by your boss, you may have a case to take to the tribunal.

Otherwise it looks as if you may be destined to accept the employer’s rough justice and start polishing up your CV.

Q I live in a flat and I recently bought a new washing machine which was installed by a store’s delivery men. The first time it was used it flooded my kitchen and water penetrated the flat below causing almost £1,500 worth of damage. The store gave me vouchers valued at £50 in compensation, but has refused to compensate my neighbour. Can you advise please?

GH (e-mail)

A The washing machine should have been installed using reasonable care and skill.

You told me the cause of the leak turned out to be the cold water hose fitting which had been damaged and did not ensure a watertight seal.

The fitting should have been of satisfactory quality, and as a result both you and your neighbour are entitled to compensation that will completely restore your homes to the condition they were in before the water damage.

I advise both of you to get a quotation for the full cost of the repairs. Send it to the store’s head office, and insist they pay up.


Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him at richardjthomson1@sky.com and wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.