Award of more than £16,000 at Tribunal after only five days’ employment

A London tribunal has awarded more than £16,000 to a trainee emergency call operator after it ruled that he had been racially discriminated against by his former employer during a drug investigation.

The employee was suspended without pay just five days into his employment after his employer accused him of consuming and distributing illegal drugs to his colleagues. He had in fact been using off-the-shelf caffeine supplements.

The tribunal ruled that the subsequent investigation did not properly identify what drugs or substances were consumed or by whom, or even ascertain the legality of the drugs in question.

The ruling said that the employee, who is black, was subject to “suspension, investigation and summoned to an unjustifiable disciplinary hearing” in circumstances under which no white comparator would have faced the same.

The employer told the tribunal it had followed its disciplinary policies and procedures by undertaking an investigation but the tribunal found that the investigation had actually determined that the employee had not consumed or distributed an illegal substance but had been taking a caffeine supplementand that there was no attempt to ascertain the legality of this “drug”.

The judge commented that, “The investigation did not properly identify what drugs or substances were consumed and by whom. The investigation did not clarify who else was given such drugs or substances. Astonishingly the investigation did not ascertain the legality of such drugs or substances,” he said. “The conclusions of the investigation were wholly unsustainable. This was a deeply flawed investigation at every level.”

The tribunal awarded the £16,202.59 compensation for injury to feeling, loss of earnings and an additional ACAS uplift – and this employee was five days into his employment at the point of the allegation.

This case demonstrates that many claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination succeed because of flaws in the investigation process.

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