A finding of dishonesty against an employee is a grave matter that is highly likely to negatively impact on their future working life. In upholding a postman’s unfair dismissal claim, an Employment Tribunal (ET) emphasised that such a finding can only be justified following a thorough and reasonable investigation.
The postman was accused of stealing a letter from a bank that had been left sticking out of a householder’s letterbox. The evidence against him included CCTV footage from a video doorbell. He was dismissed after the allegation was found proved by a disciplinary panel. His internal appeal against that outcome failed.
In denying the allegation, he said that he was stressed at the time, having taken on an unfamiliar round with a view to earning overtime. He asserted that, after realising that he had made mistakes and posted some mail through the wrong doors, he retraced his steps, removing letters from letterboxes before re-posting them correctly. That was in accordance with the employer’s policy that, where items are mis-delivered, an attempt to retrieve them must be made.
In upholding his claim, the ET identified a number of flaws in the investigation of his alleged wrongdoing and ruled that the panel had no reasonable grounds to believe that he was guilty of theft, dishonesty or a lack of integrity. The decision to dismiss him thus fell outside the band of reasonable responses.
The ET noted, amongst other things, significant gaps in the CCTV evidence and the panel’s failure to investigate points made in the postman’s defence. There was no proof that the householder had any item of mail missing or that the postman had taken anything at all. In reaching its decision, the panel breached an agreement with a trade union by relying on GPS data to track the postman’s movements.
The postman was ruled 20 per cent responsible for his dismissal on the basis that, but for the mis-delivery and his failure to ensure that post was pushed all the way through the householder’s letterbox, the matter would not have arisen. If not agreed, the amount of his compensation would be assessed at a further hearing. At that hearing, it would also be open to him to seek reinstatement in his job.