Do you smell alcohol?

Malgorzata Krolik was a team leader within Young’s seafood factory in Livingston, having been employed for 11 years, with a clear disciplinary record. In August 2020 she was dismissed due to the company’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to alcohol.

Ms Krolik arrived at work for a 2pm until 10pm shift and was immediately called into a staff briefing, during which she lost her temper after being told she was being forced to take leave to coincide with work being carried out on the production line. When challenged on her behaviour during the staff briefing Ms Krolik started crying which prompted a team manager to comfort her by giving her a hug and in turn smelling alcohol.

When asked, she explained that she had drunk three beers before work as she had trouble sleeping. She denied that she was under the influence and offered to do a breathalyser test that was available within the premises.  However, Youngs’ ‘zero tolerance’ policy on alcohol meant employees could not drink on the same day they worked, and she was suspended and later dismissed for gross misconduct.

At the disciplinary hearing the employee admitted to having an alcohol problem, suffering domestic stress, and going through menopause.

The ‘zero tolerance policy’ stated that:

 “Where an employee demonstrates a genuine dependency on alcohol and substances. The company will endeavour to help and support the employee, giving them a reasonable opportunity to overcome the problem………The company may also refer the employee to the company’s occupational health service/ mental health service to support the individual. The company may request for access to medical records and rehabilitation programs…’’.

The company took the view that she had not admitted to her drink problem prior to the incident and that she was using alcohol dependency as an excuse for her bad behaviour. Therefore, they decided not to send her to Occupational Health or seek a GP report and failed to act in accordance with its own policy.

The tribunal ruled that the claimant was unfairly dismissed and that the company’s decision to dismiss the fell outside the range of reasonable responses. It did not take adequate account of mitigating circumstances, or length of service and clean disciplinary record. There were no reasonable grounds to believe that the employee was being untruthful about her alcohol dependency. It did not consider the possibility of any alternative sanctions to summary dismissal. It was concluded that her behaviour was ‘equivalent to an employee consuming three beers by 11pm at night, sleeping for a number of hours, and then attending work at 9am the following day’.

The employee was awarded £5454 in compensation.  When policies are in place, it is important that those managers involved in the disciplinary process follow them and apply them.  This litigation could have been avoided had the business applied its own stated policy in this instance.

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