Case law updates

Tribunal upholds unfair dismissal claim due to “flawed” disciplinary proceedings

A bus driver who got into a physical altercation with a driver from another bus company was unfairly dismissed after “flawed” disciplinary proceedings, a tribunal has ruled.

Mr J Taylor, a bus driver employed by Metroline Travel since July 2018, was dismissed on in November 2020 after a physical altercation with a driver from a different operator who allegedly tried to “bite” him and threatened to “take [his] life”.

The tribunal found the initial investigation, disciplinary and dismissal process was “flawed” and “substantively unfair” as CCTV footage of the fracas was not provided to Taylor before the proceedings, and his remorse was not taken into account. A further claim for dismissal on the grounds of health and safety was not upheld.

On 10 November 2020, Metroline’s managing director received an email from a Mr Dean Sullivan of Sullivan Buses regarding the incident on. This claimed that his driver was punched and had to attend hospital for head injuries, and was now off work. The email stated that they had not yet had a chance to interview the driver, and the allegations were based solely on viewing CCTV footage of the fight.

Taylor was immediately suspended and invited to an investigation meeting a week later. However when Taylor’s union representative asked for a postponement to view the CCTV, Metroline management decided to go ahead with the investigation meeting without the union rep. Taylor wrote in a statement that because his chosen representative was denied the opportunity to attend or have access to the CCTV, he would not be answering questions during the meeting. He was however given access to the recordings during the investigation meeting.

Metroline decided to progress the investigation to a formal disciplinary hearing on the grounds of gross misconduct, alleging that the CCTV showed Taylor “breaching and failing to adhere to company rules” when he exited his cab and got into a fight.

The hearing decided to dismiss Taylor for gross misconduct by breaching the disciplinary, diversity and inclusion policies, as the level of violence used against the Sullivan Buses driver was “unnecessary” and not something that could be considered “self defence”. Taylor’s appeal was unsuccessful.

The tribunal took the view that Taylor was unfairly dismissed because Metroline failed to provide the CCTV footage on which it relied to either Taylor or his union representative before the investigation meeting, despite the company’s disciplinary policy stating it had to do so. Moreover statements from the Sullivan Buses driver, CCTV recordings from Sullivan Buses, and a statement from the bus station controller were never requested.

It found that there was “almost a total reliance on CCTV footage for evidence,” and that it “appears that the hearing was conducted in a manner that whatever [Taylor] had to say was either not taken into account or given little weight – which contributed to his disengagement from the process”.

Taylor’s conduct had contributed to his dismissal, but to “a limited extent”. For this reason, the tribunal ruled that Taylor’s basic and compensatory awards would be reduced by 20 per cent.

This is an example of an employer rushing a disciplinary investigation and “cutting corners” where the employee is believed to be “caught red-handed”. In these circumstances  Tribunals increasingly pick up on easily avoided procedural flaws as a reason to uphold an unfair dismissal claim.

Metroline expressed disappointment and will appeal the decision.