The EAT upheld the tribunal ruling that the dismissal of an alcoholic employee who was found drunk at work was unfair on the grounds that the employer had failed to follow its own alcohol policy when disciplining the employee.

The dismissal was procedurally unfair for two main reasons. Firstly, the council had not provided the claimant or his supervisors with a copy of its internal alcohol policy until immediately prior to the disciplinary hearing which resulted in the claimant’s dismissal. Furthermore, the council had not made it clear to the claimant what steps he needed to take in order to bring a stop to the disciplinary action, namely to seek treatment for his alcoholism!

The EAT did depart from the tribunal’s findings in relation to contributory fault and ruled that the claimant’s disciplinary breaches arising from his alcoholism could amount to contributory fault. Unacceptable conduct in an employment context cannot always be excused by reason of a background of underlying illness. However, as a caveat, employers should be aware that if the illness amounts to a disability for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, then the employer must take care when disciplining an employee for a disability related reason.

Sinclair v Wandsworth Council