Case Review: Employee unfairly dismissed for smoking in company vehicle

In the recent case of Halford v Seddon Property Services, the employment tribunal held that the claimant had been unfairly dismissed for breaching the “no smoking” policy for company vehicles.

Mr Halford got into an argument with his manager over the condition of his company vehicle. The Operations Manager gave Mr Halford a warning for foul and abusive language, and he was given a new company vehicle. Mr Halford was later investigated following claims by other witnesses (employees) had seen someone smoking in a new company vehicle on 16 February 2012, and they claimed it was him although there was some confusion over the timing of the incident. Following a disciplinary hearing Mr Halford was found to be in breach of the company’s no-smoking policy and was dismissed.

In dismissing Mr Halford, his employer stated “the actual date of the alleged offence was of little consequence.”

It emerged during the appeal that Mr Halford had not actually been issued with his new vehicle until 22 February, six days after the alleged incident which led to his dismissal. Despite this new evidence the appeal was unsuccessful, and Mr Halford received a letter from the employer stating that although there were discrepancies over the date of the incident, it now believed that it took place on 23 February. Mr Halford brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

In deciding this case, the employment tribunal criticised the employer for not taking more care to confirm the identity of the perpetrator, particularly given the confusion over the date of the alleged incident. The issue of identification was of paramount importance. The tribunal found that the Line Manager and the Operations Manager were influenced by the fact they had worked with the witnesses for a number of years and had “no reason to disbelieve them”. They did not therefore carry out sufficient investigation into Mr Halford’s whereabouts at the time of the alleged incident.

The tribunal concluded that whilst smoking in a no-smoking company vehicle, if proved true, would be grounds for dismissal, the employer’s investigation was not fair and reasonable. Mr Halford’s unfair dismissal claim succeeded.