An employee who was unfairly dismissed for allegedly breaching his employer’s workplace smoking policy was unfairly dismissed, an Employment Tribunal has ruled.
Mr Halford worked as a maintenance worker at Seddon Property Services Ltd. In early 2012 he became embroiled in an argument with his line manager, Mr Thomas, about the state of his van. Mr Brunt, the operations manager, gave Mr Halford a warning for the use of foul and abusive language directed at Mr Thomas. Mr Halford was subsequently provided with a new vehicle.
After the incident between Mr Halford and Mr Thomas, two employees reported to Mr Brunt that they had noticed someone smoking in a new company vehicle outside the company premises on 16 February 2012. The two witnesses were initially unable to identify the perpetrator but Mr Brunt identified the individual as Mr Halford. This appears to have influenced the two witnesses, who were referring to Mr Halford as the perpetrator of the incident by the time of the disciplinary hearing.
It became clear during the disciplinary hearing that there was some confusion as to when the actual incident of smoking occurred as the two witnesses were unable to state this with clarity. Mr Halford, for his part, denied knowledge of the incident in question. Mr Thomas and Mr Brunt – who were chairing the disciplinary hearing – concluded that there was no reason for them to disbelieve the two witnesses due to their long service, concluded that it had been Mr Halford in the new company vehicle, and stated that as they had made this finding the actual date of the incident was of “little consequence”. Mr Halford was therefore dismissed for gross misconduct – specifically breaching the company’s ssmoking policy. Mr Halford appealed. During the appeal process it emerged that Mr Halford had not been issued with his new vehicle until 22 February 2013. It therefore could not have meant that it was Mr Halford who had been smoking in the vehicle. The date of the incident was therefore altered to 23 February 2013 and the decision to dismiss was upheld. Mr Halford subsequently instructed unfair dismissal solicitors and made a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal.
The Employment Tribunal found that Mr Halford had in fact been unfairly dismissed. His employer had failed in its duty to carry out a substantively fair dismissal – in particular, they had failed to carry out a reasonably thorough investigation. The fact that there was confusion over the dates and that they had failed to reasonably investigate the date that Mr Halford’s new vehicle had been issued to him led them to this conclusion. Further, there was no reason for accepting the witness evidence of two employees simply because of their length of service and Seddon Property Services Ltd had failed to investigate the whereabouts of Mr Halford at the time of the incident. A finding of unfair dismissal was therefore arrived at.