February 29, 2016

Dismissal for Sharing Confidential Information Was Unfair

In Stimpson v Citibank N.A. ET/3200437/15, Mr Stimpson brought claims for unfair and wrongful dismissal after being dismissed without notice by Citibank N.A. (Citi) for an alleged breach of Citi’s policies on confidential information.

Mr Stimpson was a foreign exchange trader encouraged by Citi to use online chat rooms to communicate with other traders. No specific guidance was given initially as to the parameters of shareable information in this forum, and when policies were put in place, Mr Stimpson amended his behaviour accordingly. At the date of his dismissal Mr Stimpson had not used chat rooms for three years. Such information sharing was claimed by Citi to be a breach of the implied duty of fidelity, the employment handbook and the general confidentiality rules in Citi’s code of conduct. Mr Stimpson, although admitting that he had shared confidential client information, claimed that his dismissal was unfair as the rules were unclear and he was operating in a culture where it was not unusual to do so, across both the bank itself and the industry as a whole. The Employment Tribunal agreed that Citi had not conducted an appropriate level of investigation and accordingly had not acted reasonably in all of the circumstances; it was insufficient to rely on Citi’s policies alone in the face of a clear information-sharing culture. Mr Stimpson was therefore found not to be in repudiatory breach of his employment contract although he was found to have contributed to his own dismissal.

This should serve as a warning to employers of the importance of undertaking a proper investigation in disciplinary procedures and taking into account the culture encouraged or allowed amongst employees as well as looking at the strict reading of policies: simply having policies in place is insufficient if employee behaviour in practice does not reflect them.

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