Bus driver sacked after knocking cyclist off bike loses unfair dismissal claim

Tribunal rules employer’s decision was reasonable in light of claimant’s ‘dangerous and unacceptable’ behaviour

A bus driver who was fired after for hitting a cyclist was not unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has found.

An Edinburgh employment tribunal ruled that the decision by Lothian Buses to dismiss Mr Sam Beech, who had worked at the company for 11 years until his dismissal on 27 September 2019, was not “too harsh”.

Despite raising some concerns over the investigation of the incident by the operator, the tribunal said Lothian Buses had “a genuine belief’ that Beech had acted in a “dangerous and unsafe manner” and that, given the nature of his job, the decision to dismiss was “reasonable”.

On 21 September 2019, Beech was pulling out of a bus stop when a cyclist “banged” the outside wing mirror of the vehicle, prompting Beech to sound his horn. 

The cyclist proceeded to pull in front of the bus, make obscene gestures and swear at Beech. The tribunal heard that the bus then hit the cyclist, causing him to fall off his bike. Beech called Lothian’s control room and the emergency services, and at least one passenger provided assistance to the cyclist. However, Beech stayed on the bus for nine minutes before disembarking. He then took pictures of the bike before checking on the cyclist.

The cyclist was taken to hospital and Beech returned the bus to the depot before ending his shift early.

An accident report was completed with Beech’s input at an investigatory meeting held on 23 September, where Beech was informed he was being suspended pending further investigation. This was confirmed in writing later that day, with “careless/reckless driving” given as the reason.

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At a disciplinary hearing on 27 September, Beech was told he was being dismissed for gross misconduct.

In a written appeal against his dismissal he wrote that “the decision was too harsh” and that he felt “no-one has listened to my story”. Beech also claimed that the cyclist did not have any lights, was under the influence of alcohol and that the police had stated Beech was “not blameworthy for this accident”. He was, however, unsuccessful at appeal hearings held in October and November.

The tribunal noted Lothian Buses’ position that the cyclist was not under the influence of alcohol, even though the narrative in the supervisor’s report said they were.

The tribunal also said that while the firm had indicated it could not wait to receive the police report, it did not appear that it considered this and that no attempt was made during the investigation to contact the police or traffic officers.

However, despite these concerns about the investigation, the tribunal said it had “little hesitation in concluding that the claimant had been dismissed on the basis of his conduct” and rejected the claimant’s suggestion that a final written warning would have been a more appropriate sanction given his long tenure at the company.

Employment judge Jones said: “The respondent had a genuine belief that the claimant had acted in a dangerous and unacceptable manner, and given the nature of the claimant’s duties where he worked unsupervised and was required to ensure the safety of passengers and other road users, the decision to dismiss the claimant was a reasonable one.”

The tribunal added that while all the witnesses for Lothian Buses made clear they believed the cyclist’s conduct had been entirely unacceptable, Beech should have responded to the incident differently “by coming to a stop as soon as he was aware that there was a hazard on the road, rather than accelerating towards the hazard”.

The tribunal concluded that Beech had been dismissed solely as a consequence of the incident on 21 September 2019, that the respondent had followed a fair procedure in relation to the claimant’s dismissal and that the dismissal had been within the band of reasonable responses.

Lothian Buses and Beech have been contacted for comment.