Our client was employed as a bus driver and had 18 years of continuous employment. He had a clean record with no warnings or incidents.
While driving in the rain, he had been involved in one unexplained low-speed accident which resulted in a collision with three parked cars and a fence. This caused about £40,000 of damage. He believed that the brakes on his vehicle had failed, although the employer had carried out tests and found nothing to be wrong.
There was video evidence of the bus journey, including in the driver’s cab. This showed that he was obviously awake and not distracted at the time that the accident occurred.
The cause of the accident could only be complete unexplained negligence by our client, the driver, but he did not accept that. He disputed it from the very first time that the employer interviewed him. The company dismissed him within a couple of weeks, and his internal appeal was also unsuccessful.
Attempts to negotiate a compromise were unsuccessful and this led to a hearing recently at Watford Employment Tribunal. One of the large ‘magic circle’ City law firms and their specialist employment barrister opposed us all along.
Our employment solicitor, Kuldeep Clair, handled the case for us, and also advocated at the tribunal.
The decision of the tribunal came a month after a three-day hearing. We pointed out how the company had not considered theoretical alternative explanations for the accident, and how disclosure of the brake test reports had come extraordinarily late. The company’s culture of hostility to lawyers representing employees was also criticised; their HR appeals manager had been uncooperative and failed to look at the original decision afresh.
The negative side was the following:
The tribunal felt that the employer can conclude the brakes were not faulty. This is in the light of all of the evidence, and lack of a positive alternative explanation from the client.
Decisions to dismiss are rarely black and white. They need to fall in a ‘band of reasonable responses’. A tribunal will always be looking at the overall reasonableness of the employer’s decision taking account of the full circumstances.
However, we were successful in pointing out the procedural irregularities throughout. The tribunal decided that if the employer had adopted a proper procedure, there was a 30% possibility that the employer’s decision might have been in favour of our client. So, he received only a proportion of his full damages. However, that was enough to cover the trial costs. He fought the case as a matter of principle, and so he was pleased with the result. He had few ongoing losses as he found an alternative job three months after being dismissed in any event.