A factory worker was awarded over £5,000 for a claim of unfair dismissal after drinking several beers the night before her afternoon shift.

A recent case that is interesting is the case of Krolik v Youngs Seafood Limited. The Claimant, Ms. Krolik was called into a meeting with her employer, where she was informed she must take annual leave while work was carried out on a production line at the factory where she worked.

During the meeting, tensions rose and a colleague claimed they could smell alcohol from Ms Krolik’s breath, questioning whether she had been drinking. She admitted to drinking three beers the night before to help her sleep before going to bed at 5am. She arrived for her shift beginning at 2pm.

Ms Krolik was suspended as she was believed to be under the influence of alcohol at work and was later dismissed. She brought an unfair dismissal claim at the Employment Tribunal. No support was offered to her although the company Substance Misuse Policy provided that it should be.

The Tribunal upheld Ms Krolik’s claim that she was unfairly dismissed, reasoning that her consumption of three beers the morning of her shift was equivalent to an employee consuming three beers by 11pm the night before their shift, sleeping for several hours and then beginning their shift at 9am the next day.

Despite the factory employing a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol, the tribunal held that it was not reasonable for the employer to assume Ms Krolik posed a health and safety risk to herself or her colleagues without further investigation.

Employment Judge Shepherd found that no investigations were undertaken to determine the extent to which the employee was under the influence of alcohol. Ms Krolik had offered to undertake an alcohol test but was denied the opportunity to do so due to her admission that she had consumed three beers that morning.

The Tribunal held that the respondent’s investigation was inadequate and reasonable consideration was not given to mitigating circumstances and length of the service. It was held that dismissal fell outwith the range of reasonable responses and the claimant was awarded £5,454 in compensation for unfair dismissal (after a reduction of the compensatory award for contributory conduct).

What does this mean for employers?

This case is a useful reminder that an employer’s policy is only ever a starting point. An employer is required to undertake a reasonable investigation and make its decision based on the facts in context. If a policy is not followed, it will be much harder to show that a dismissal was a reasonable response in such situations.

This article was co-written by Jenna Alexander, Trainee Solicitor.