Engineer who used company car to pick up golf clubs during lockdown was unfairly sacked, tribunal rules

·3-min read
Golf clubs - Pater Dazeley/Getty
Golf clubs - Pater Dazeley/Getty

An engineer was unfairly sacked after flouting lockdown rules to drive 220 miles in a company car and top up £50 in petrol on his work card, a tribunal has ruled.

An employment tribunal has ruled Daniel Bailey, who was on furlough at the time, was unfairly dismissed because he was not given prior warning he was attending an “investigation meeting”.

When managers investigated the trip from Lancashire to Birmingham to pick up some golf clubs, Mr Bailey admitted he “hoped no one would notice”.

He was then dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr Bailey told the tribunal panel he had felt “ambushed” when managers started asking him about his journey to collect the clubs.

His claim of unfair dismissal succeeded, but his other claims of discrimination arising from disability, disability related harassment, and wrongful dismissal failed.

The hearing was told Mr Bailey began working at Design & Technical Services LTD - a machine tools company based in Lytham St Annes, Lancs - in September 2011.

His job involved using a work van to visit client sites to provide maintenance services.

He was told the vehicle was only to be used for “legitimate company business”, and long trips for personal use needed to be approved by a company director.

In February 2021, during the third national lockdown, Mr Bailey had been placed on furlough, the tribunal heard.

Engineer 'felt lonely'

Feeling “lonely”, he decided to leave his home and use the van to make a 220-mile round trip to and from Birmingham to pick up some golf clubs he had been offered for free, the panel was told.

Realising he didn't have enough fuel to get back home, the engineer bought £50 in Solihull with his company fuel card.

When the company secretary was checking the fuel receipts the following week, she noticed Mr Bailey had used the card on a date when he was furloughed, 110 miles or so away from his home, the panel was told.

As a result, his managers called him in to discuss the incident.

However, Mr Bailey was not told it was an “investigation meeting” into a potential disciplinary matter, believing it was a welfare chat, and felt “ambushed” when talk turned to his trip, the tribunal heard.

He initially made a comment about looking forward to playing golf when lockdown restrictions eased, which his manager - Glynis Lamb - picked up on, asking him about the Birmingham trip, the panel heard.

He confessed he had “hoped no one would notice” he purchased the petrol.

Mr Bailey later claimed he had made a “rash” decision to collect the golf clubs because of his poor mental state during lockdown, and used the company card by accident.

Appeal turned down

He was sacked for gross misconduct, and his subsequent appeal was turned down.

The tribunal concluded that on the “balance of probabilities” Mr Bailey had knowingly used the company card to pay for fuel on his trip to Birmingham.

But the panel also decided he was unfairly dismissed, because he was not given prior warning about the investigation meeting.

Employment Judge Rhodri McDonald said: "Mr Bailey had obviously made a prior arrangement to pick up the golf clubs and had also driven a significant distance. That would have required concentration and pre-meditation.

"[However,] we find that the way the meeting in March 2021 was conducted was not reasonable.

"We find it was flawed and unfair because Mr Bailey was not informed in advance of the meeting that it was to be an investigation meeting."

Mr Bailey was not awarded any compensation by the tribunal because it was “100 per cent inevitable that he would have been fairly dismissed on the same date as his actual dismissal had a fair procedure been followed”.