Failure to update procedures following disciplinary action resulted in an unfair dismissal

An assembly worker for a car manufacturer has won £16,000 after being dismissed for going to a fast-food restaurant during his break. The employee visited the fast-food restaurant for about an hour during an overtime shift. On his return he was reprimanded for not telling management that he had clocked out for lunch – though the employee insisted he had. The employee went home shortly afterwards appearing ‘upset’ and said he ‘did not wish to be here anymore’.

The employee then was signed off from work with stress at work and anxiety and was subsequently dismissed 3 months later over the incident. However, he was reinstated and given a written warning after he appealed.

Following this, 5 months later, the employee was dismissed for gross misconduct for leaving the same site to collect sandwiches from his car.  At this point he raised a claim at the employment tribunal. The tribunal found there had been some confusion around whether the employee had been on-site during his break and that this was not ‘reasonably’ investigated.

The Employment Judge said the employer: ‘failed to investigate the assertions by the employee and his trade union representatives that this was a widespread practice done during break times by dozens of other employees. There was no evidence of any procedure in place for obtaining permission to exit the site or to let a supervisor know who was leaving the building and when. This was particularly relevant given that the same scenario had occurred previously, with the same employee!

The Judge noted no other staff member who took lunch were subject to investigation. This case is interesting on two counts – it appeared that only one employee was pulled up for something that was widespread and the employee was disciplined twice for the same situation; yet the employer was not able to demonstrate lessons learned from the first incident.  Following an investigation and any disciplinary action, it is always worth reviewing procedures and if necessary, issuing reminders to ALL staff.

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