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J.K. Rowling dismisses Personal Assistant for gross misconduct

View profile for Emily Yeardley
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Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling dismissed her Personal Assistant, Amanda Donaldson in April 2017 for gross misconduct.

Ms Donaldson is reported to have used her business credit card to shop at high end stores such as Jo Malone and Molton Brown, whilst also pocketing various Harry Potter merchandise and buying herself two cats valued at £1,200. It has recently been reported that J.K. Rowling is pursuing legal action against Ms Donaldson for the recovery of £23,696.32 which she alleges was personal expenditure incurred by Ms Donaldson over the course of her three year employment. The case will be heard later this year.

So, what is gross misconduct?

Every employee who has been employed continuously for two years or more, has the right not to be unfairly dismissed. There are five potentially fair reasons on which an employer can rely when dismissing an employee: conduct, capability or qualification, redundancy, contravention of a statute or some other substantial reason. Conduct can include an act or series of acts for example, unauthorised absenteeism, a refusal to obey reasonable instructions and dishonesty, which can amount to gross misconduct.

Even if the employer can prove that the dismissal is for one of the five potentially fair reasons, it will need to demonstrate that it has acted reasonably in regarding that reason as sufficient to dismiss the employee. This will involve the employer conducting a full and proper investigation prior to dismissal.

Where an employer considers an employee’s actions amount to gross misconduct, it can dismiss them immediately, even if it is the employee’s first offence, without notice or pay in lieu of notice. Theft and physical violence are common examples of gross misconduct. Normally employers will set out examples of what will be regarded as gross misconduct in their disciplinary policy. This can differ depending on the nature of the business.

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It is important for employers to treat employees consistently as different treatment can result in an employee’s dismissal being considered unfair. Employers should also take into account an employee’s length of service when deciding whether to dismiss.  

If you would like to discuss this article in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Team.

This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.

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