My client was had been employed as a bus driver and had 18 years continuous employment. He had a clean record with no warnings or incidents.
He had been involved in one unexplained low-speed accident which resulted in a collision with three parked cars and a fence, when he was driving in the rain. 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 nothing had been found 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 he was interviewed by the employer. 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. We had been opposed all along by one of the large ‘magic circle’ City law firms and their specialist employment barrister.
Kuldeep Clair, handled the case 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 unco-operative and failed to look at the original decision afresh.
The negative side was that the tribunal felt that the employer was entitled to come to the conclusion that the brakes were not faulty, in the light of all of the evidence, and that our client had not offered a positive alternative explanation for the accident. 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 and 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.
The case was a substantial kick in the teeth for the respondent employer, who had fought it tooth and nail, and incurred huge costs in doing so.