In a case which underlined the great importance of fair and thorough disciplinary procedures in the workplace, a bus driver who was accused of using a mobile phone whilst driving has succeeded in a wrongful dismissal claim.
The man was at the wheel of a London bus when the general manager of the company for which he worked happened to drive past. She later said that she had witnessed him using his phone. He denied the claim but was found guilty of gross misconduct after a disciplinary process and was summarily dismissed.
His complaints of unlawful and unfair dismissal were upheld in full by an Employment Tribunal (ET) which specifically found that he had not committed the misconduct alleged and that his dismissal was therefore outside the range of reasonable responses open to his employer.
The ET found a number of flaws in the investigation carried out by the disciplinary panel and noted in particular that it had reached its conclusions without waiting to see the man’s phone records. Those records subsequently showed that there had been no outgoing messages from the man’s phone at the relevant time.
In ruling on the bus company’s appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET had fallen into the error of substituting its own view of the facts for that of the employer. There had been no real analysis of the employer’s actual process of reasoning prior to the dismissal. The finding of unfair dismissal was therefore overturned and the issue sent back to a fresh ET for reconsideration.
However, the EAT went on to rule that there was nothing perverse in the finding of wrongful dismissal. A reasonable employer would have waited for and investigated the phone records and there had also been a failure to deal with evidence that the man could make little use of his phone without wearing his glasses.