The Employment Appeal Tribunal came to what might seem a surprising conclusion recently, when it upheld the employment tribunal's (ET) decision that an employee who had been drunk on duty several times had been unfairly dismissed. This decision (in which the lay members outvoted the chairman) was reached because the local authority employer had an alcohol policy that encouraged employees with a drink problem to get help for their addiction and stated that, if they did so, disciplinary proceedings could be suspended. This policy had not been sent to the employee or drawn to his attention when he was first disciplined for being drunk on duty.

It followed that the ET had been entitled to conclude that he had been unfairly dismissed, although he was only awarded limited compensation because it took the view that he was unlikely to have been sufficiently motivated to address his alcoholism to avoid dismissal further down the line. Although the facts may be unusual, this case does underline the general rule that employers who ignore internal policies in the disciplinary context will increase the risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.

For the full decision (Sinclair v Wandsworth Council) click here.