In a recent case brought to an Employment Tribunal, a tanker driver claimed that he was unfairly dismissed. The reason given by him was the disapproval of his employer regarding the driver’s trade union activities.
However, the respondent, a company named Hoyer Gas and Petroleum Logistics Limited, dismissed this claim. The company stated that the driver was dismissed because of gross misconduct.
What Exactly Happened?
Peter Flockhart, the claimant, was employed by Hoyer as a tanker driver. He was highly trained and held a class 1 driver’s license since June 2007. Moreover, he was quite experienced and had no driving penalties until December 2021.
As a driver for the company, his main role was to transport fuel to petrol stations in a 14-tonne tanker. Mr Flockhart was expected to do this in a safe, effective and efficient manner while ensuring the fuel reaches safely as per company requirements.
However, on the 15th of December 2021, Mr Flockhart was driving on the A814 expressway and got involved in an accident with a Hyundai i20. The i20 was said to have been driving next to the tanker and as Mr Flockhart changed lanes, it caused the tanker to smash into the car.
This caused the i20 to spin around and, as a result, get wedged to the tankers cab. The i20 was shunted for the better part of a minute until Mr Flockhart “guided” it to a slip road. There were no injuries or damage to the i20, however, there were a few scratches to the tanker’s bumper.
Following this accident, an investigation was conducted on the 22nd of December 2021 by Ms Ure, Mr Flockhart’s line manager. Ms Ure had the footage of the accident which was played numerous times as Mr Flockhart was questioned.
He was asked to explain how he changed lanes and what checks were conducted before he did it. On being asked how he didn’t see the i20, Mr Flockhart said “it could’ve been in a blind spot”. Mr Flockhart was suspended on a temporary basis with basic pay.
After the investigation, a disciplinary hearing took place on the 12th of January 2022 where location transport manager, Jamie Matheson, participated. On reviewing the footage of the accident, Ms Matheson confirmed that the i20 was indeed in a blind spot and might not have been visible to Mr Flockhart. However, she did notice that it was only when a passer-by van switched on his hazard lights did Mr Flockhart realise something was wrong.
Finally, it was Ms Matheson who concluded that Mr Flockhart did not conduct the necessary checks before changing lanes. The i20 was in the right lane and had Mr Flockhart been more diligent, he might have been able to see it. Moreover, she stated that other than not noticing the i20, Mr Flockhart didn’t realise he smashed the car, or that it was wedged into his tanker, until much later.
What The Employment Tribunal Said
While considering this case, the Tribunal made sure to take into consideration the investigation, the disciplinary hearing, the appeal and every person’s involvement in it. Given that Mr Flockhart claimed his dismissal was because of his trade union activities, it was crucial for the Tribunal to see whether any involved parties were connected to Mr Flockhart prior to the incident.
The Tribunal found that none of the parties had any connection to Mr Flockhart outside of the investigation of the accident. Moreover, Ms Ure did not think this was an incident of gross misconduct, but she did understand the seriousness of the situation which is why Mr Flockhart was suspended.
It was also recognised by the Tribunal that Ms Matheson has no specialised knowledge of this vehicle, but she was a third party who could view the footage with a fresh pair of eyes. Regarding the appeal, the Tribunal found that all the points raised were fully explored and the procedure had been carried out fairly and reasonably.
Taking all of that into consideration as well as Mr Flockhart’s employment contract that classifies “negligent, reckless or dangerous behaviour or driving” as gross misconduct, the Tribunal sided with Hoyer and upheld the company’s decision to dismiss Mr Flockhart.