Guidance on complying with the statutory dispute resolution procedures
Draper v Mears Ltd, EAT, 5 September 2006
BACKGROUND Mr Draper used a company van, which he was allowed to drive to and from home, but otherwise not for personal purposes. Mears operated a 'zero tolerance' policy regarding consuming alcohol before driving a company vehicle.
One day, two managers found Draper sitting in a van smelling of alcohol. Draper behaved aggressively. During investigatory meetings, Draper admitted that he had drunk a pint of lager. A letter inviting him to a formal disciplinary meeting said that disciplinary action would be considered with regard, among other things, to his breach of the company's vehicle regulations and procedures. Draper was dismissed.
His appeal was rejected and he brought a claim for unfair dismissal.
The tribunal found that the company's belief with respect to Draper's conduct was reasonable and was based on sufficient investigation. Summary dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses open to Mears. Mears had complied with the statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedure (DDP), so there was no question of the dismissal being unfair for that reason. Draper appealed.
DECISION Draper argued that the letter inviting him to a disciplinary meeting did not comply with step 1 of the DDP. The EAT found, however, that the letter set out the grounds on which Mears was contemplating dismissing him. Even if that had not been the case, the tribunal was entitled to look at the context as a whole and decide whether the letter provided enough information, taking into account Draper's knowledge at the time he received it. The EAT dismissed the appeal.
COMMENT The EAT held that the approach to an employer's compliance with the DDP should be similar to the EAT's approach in relation to compliance by an employee with the statutory grievance procedures. Consequently, the statement provided to an employee in accordance with step 1 of the DDP need only set out a brief statement of the grounds that have led the employer to contemplate dismissal. Of course, giving as much information as possible is still regarded as best practice and will reduce the risk of challenge.