In this fairly common scenario, two repair contractors who were fired for gross misconduct after they were discovered to have used company vehicles for personal purposes were unfairly dismissed rules the Birmingham Employment Tribunal.

While the pair were at fault for misusing the vans, the tribunal found their employer failed to thoroughly investigate the issue before dismissing them.

The company’s driver and vehicle policy stated that the vans were only provided for carrying out work duties, and must not “under any circumstances be used for private purposes other than for ordinary commuting.

Unauthorised use of a company vehicle is deemed to be gross misconduct and may result in dismissal.”

Seems clear, doesn’t it..?

The employer launched an investigation into the individual’s private use following a tip off.

Tracker information showed multiple personal journeys on the way home from work and at weekends and evenings.

The ex-employees provided various usual mitigations:

1. not having seen the policy
2. not understanding exactly what it meant
3. personal issues
4. that everyone else did it

Both were dismissed for gross misconduct.

Unfortunately for the employer, the Tribunal felt that they had not properly investigated or considered the mitigations, their length of service or the fact that they had no previous disciplinary record.

The decision was too harsh and deemed unfair.

It’s a useful reminder about reasonableness, considering the wider mitigations and individual circumstances but also that clarity is needed on the detail in policies in the first place.

It’s worth noting that the Tribunal determined that compensation should be reduced in this case as the two had contributed to their dismissals by knowingly contradicting the company policy on vehicle use – so not all bad…