An HGV driver who got into a fight with a colleague was unfairly dismissed amid flaws in the disciplinary and investigation process, a tribunal has ruled.
Alex Milea, who worked for DHL Services, was dismissed in February 2022 after a physical altercation with another worker, who he claims spat at him and caused him to pull over on the hard shoulder of the motorway.
The incident occurred after Milea and a colleague – ‘AT’ – had driven to a meeting in Enfield, north London, and were driving back to their depot in Gatwick.
In the preceding days, AT had shared a message on the team WhatsApp group that “after a huge amount of complaints in my name I resign from being manager at Gatwick. As of tomorrow Alex Milea will be in charge of Gatwick. Any problems report to him”.
AT then turned up at the Gatwick depot in the following days saying he would not work, and that Mr Milea would have to do his work for him. Mr Milea drove AT to the meeting, which passed without incident, but they began to fall out on the return journey.
The London South tribunal heard that on that journey, AT called Mr Milea a liar and made threatening remarks towards him and his family. He then spat at him and the claimant had to pull over so he could call his line manager.
The situation escalated when the van parked at Gatwick, when AT struck Mr Milea and placed him in a headlock. AT claimed Mr Milea tried to push him out of the van and he had retaliated.
Police were called and AT was arrested and taken into custody, but no further action was taken. Mr Milea sustained facial injuries and sent a picture of these to his regional manager.
On 18 January, Mr Milea heard that he was being suspended pending an investigation, and received a letter inviting him to a meeting. At a meeting on 11 February, he was summarily dismissed.
A letter sent a week later said Mr Milea had been dismissed for gross misconduct, saying “both you and your colleague had a part to play in the events that unfolded and that accountability sits with both parties”. It added that the physical altercation had gone against the company’s disciplinary and grievance policies against fighting and physical assault.
DHL’s hearing officer Ms Hack claimed that Mr Milea had “admitted to stopping on the hard shoulder of a live motorway with the intention to eject your colleague from the vehicle, potentially placing them in imminent danger and which could have been perceived by your colleague as threatening behavior[sic]. As the driver of the vehicle, you have breached your responsibilities”.
In an appeal against the dismissal, it was discovered that no attempt had been made to source CCTV footage of the incident at the depot. The manager presiding over the appeal, in his outcome letter, said “some process failures” had been identified but that the reason for disciplinary action remained, as did the decision to dismiss.
The tribunal itself identified a number of flaws in the process and subsequent decision, including the fact managers did not sufficiently investigate who started the altercation or whether one of the parties had been a victim of assault.
However, procedural flaws such as meeting minutes showing contradictory responses would not have made an otherwise fair and reasonable process unfair, it found.
In judgment, Employment Judge Krepski said that the company had not shown that it “genuinely believed that the claimant was guilty in respect of this aspect of misconduct, or that such a belief was based on reasonable grounds”.
The tribunal ruled that Mr Milea’s actions had not amounted to gross misconduct, and therefore he had been unfairly dismissed. A separate claim for breach of contract was thrown out.
The judge granted a basic award of £1,998.50 and compensatory award of £2,594.88. A spokesperson for DHL Supply Chain said: “While we can’t comment on individual cases, if there are any lessons to be learned from any employment tribunal claim we take these very seriously and will take such action as deemed appropriate in the circumstances.”