Worker Who Misused Employer's Taxi Account Loses Unfair Dismissal Claim

A postman who was dismissed by Royal Mail Group Ltd. after running up bills for almost £2,500 on the company’s taxi account has failed in an unfair dismissal claim (McCafferty v Royal Mail Group Ltd.).

Thomas McCafferty was dismissed for gross misconduct after charging taxis to the company’s account on 87 occasions. He had only been granted permission to use the account on occasions when he was asked to work on what would otherwise have been rest days.

His employers dismissed Mr McCafferty for gross misconduct after concluding that he knew that he was not permitted to use the account without authorisation.

By a majority decision, the Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled that the dismissal had been fair. The lay members of the ET were of the view that the decision to dismiss was within the band of reasonable responses open to the employer in the circumstances. Royal Mail Group Ltd. had conducted a reasonable investigation and had reasonable grounds for believing that Mr McCafferty had tried to conceal his unauthorised use of the taxi account. The Employment Judge dissented, being of the view that the dismissal was unfair. She contended that Mr McCafferty’s long service, clean disciplinary record and the option of a lesser sanction were required to be put in the balance and outweighed the other factors.

Mr McCafferty appealed against the ET’s decision. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was satisfied, however, that there was clearly evidence which entitled the majority to conclude that Royal Mail Group had reasonable grounds for their belief that he had not only knowingly used the company’s taxi account without authority but had also tried to conceal from management the fact that he had done so.

Lady Smith went on to say that this was an example of a case in which the lay members of the ET, having drawn on their valuable ‘common sense’ and knowledge of what any employee could be expected to know, had reached a different conclusion on the facts of the case from that of the Employment Judge. Had the case been heard by an Employment Judge sitting alone, as is now permissible following the introduction of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 (Tribunal Composition) Order 2012, the outcome would have been different.

In Lady Smith’s opinion, this illustrated the value of having lay members included in the decision-making process when hearing claims for unfair dismissal, as opposed to Employment Judges sitting alone. 

The change in procedures whereby such cases will be heard by an Employment Judge sitting alone means that it is critical that employers present as much evidence as possible of the reasonableness of their actions – based on ‘real world’ experience.

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