Wincanton plc v Atkinson and another UKEAT 0040/11

Mr Atkinson and his colleague Mr Morrison were HGV drivers for Wincanton.  When Wincanton checked their licences it was discovered that Mr Atkinson’s licence had expired one month previously and Mr Morrison’s five months previously.  Both were suspended as they could not be allowed to drive pending renewal of their licences and disciplinary hearings were held.  Wincanton dismissed them both for gross misconduct due to the potentially serious adverse impact of driving without valid licences.  On appeal the employees argued that their dismissal was inappropriate, unfair and wrongful.  The dismissals were found to be unfair but the tribunal reduced their basic and compensatory awards by 66% for contributory fault.  The tribunal also held that they did not warrant dismissal without notice.   

The EAT upheld Wincanton’s appeals and overturned the findings both of wrongful and unfair dismissal.  The wrongful dismissal question was remitted to a fresh tribunal.  Even through the tribunal had recognised the consequences of driving a vehicle without a proper licence, none of the potential adverse consequences relied on materialised.  However an employer was obliged to attach great importance to the potential consequences and their dismissals fell within the band of reasonable responses.   

Key point:  Employers are entitled to take account of serious adverse consequences that might arise from an employee’s negligence and are not prevented from fairly dismissing an employee just because those consequences fail to materialise.