In a recent employment tribunal case, a rail worker was found to have been unfairly dismissed following a failed drug test that was attributed to cocaine-laced tea he had consumed unknowingly. While the tribunal acknowledged the procedural flaws in the employee’s dismissal, they ultimately denied him compensation.
The tribunal determined that the employee bore the responsibility for consuming the product without conducting adequate research and should have exercised greater caution given the tea’s origins and lack of ingredient information.
This case brings forth the significance of exercising due diligence when consuming unfamiliar products and that even employees who are unfairly dismissed may be ineligible for compensation if their actions contributed to their termination.
What Exactly Happened?
On September 6, 2020, Mr P. Glenholmes, a rail worker employed by Network Rail Infrastructure Limited, purchased a product called Mate Tea, also known as the “tea of the Incas.” Mr Glenholmes was unaware that the tea contained cocaine, as the product listing did not mention any prohibited substances. He started consuming the tea regularly to alleviate his indigestion caused by medication for a disability.
On September 24, Mr. Glenholmes underwent a routine drug and alcohol screening test as part of his employment requirements. The test results revealed a positive reading for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. This discovery led to Mr Glenholmes’ suspension from his job on September 30, 2020.
A disciplinary investigation was initiated to determine the cause of the positive test result. Mr Glenholmes explained that he believed the positive result was due to the Mate Tea he had been consuming, as he had since discovered it contained cocaine. However, the investigating officer concluded that Mr Glenholmes had knowingly ingested the tea without being aware of its contents.
Rail Worker Appeals Dismissal
On November 23, 2020, Mr Glenholmes raised a grievance alleging a lack of due diligence in the disciplinary investigation. He argued that the investigation failed to consider the possibility that the positive test result could be attributed to the cocaine-laced tea.
The grievance was upheld on March 24, 2021, and Mr Glenholmes requested that his urine sample be re-tested at his own expense. The re-testing took place on May 17, 2021, and the results once again showed a positive reading for benzoylecgonine.
In June 2022, a disciplinary hearing was held to address the positive drug test results. Mr Glenholmes was informed of the outcome of the hearing on July 12, 2022, which resulted in his summary dismissal from his employment. He appealed the decision, but his appeal was unsuccessful.
Mr Glenholmes subsequently filed an unfair dismissal claim against Network Rail Infrastructure Limited at an employment tribunal. The tribunal ruled that Mr Glenholmes’ dismissal was procedurally unfair due to the lack of due diligence in the investigation.
What Did the Tribunal Say?
In its verdict, the employment tribunal acknowledged that the rail worker, Mr Glenholmes, was unfairly dismissed on account of the inadequacies of the disciplinary investigation. The tribunal concluded that the investigation was deficient and failed to comprehensively consider the possibility that the positive drug test results might have been attributed to the cocaine-laced Mate Tea he had consumed.
However, while recognising the procedural shortcomings in the dismissal, the tribunal also determined that Mr Glenholmes bore a substantial measure of responsibility for his termination. The tribunal found that the rail worker should have exercised greater circumspection before consuming the Mate Tea, given its origins and the absence of comprehensive ingredient information.
The tribunal emphasised that Mr Glenholmes’ failure to conduct adequate research demonstrated a lapse in due diligence, which contributed to his dismissal. In light of Mr Glenholmes’ contributory fault, the tribunal concluded that it would be equitable to reduce his compensation by 100%.
The tribunal’s decision signifies the importance of exercising caution when consuming unfamiliar products, particularly those of questionable provenance or limited ingredient information.