A bus driver who got into a physical altercation with a driver from a bus company was unfairly dismissed after “flawed” disciplinary proceedings, a tribunal has ruled.
The Watford employment tribunal heard that Mr J Taylor, a bus driver employed by Metroline Travel since July 2018, was dismissed on Wednesday 25 November 2020 after a physical altercation with a driver from a different operator who allegedly tried to “bite” him and threatened to “take [his] life”.
The tribunal found the initial investigation, disciplinary and dismissal process was “flawed” and “substantively unfair” as CCTV footage of the fracas was not provided to Taylor before the proceedings, and his remorse was not taken into account.
A further claim for dismissal on the grounds of health and safety was not upheld.
The tribunal heard that Taylor was employed as a PCV bus driver at Metroline Travel’s Potters Bar bus garage on 16 July 2018, until his dismissal on 25 November 2020.
On 6 November 2020, the tribunal heard that Taylor was involved in an altercation with a driver from a different operator – Sullivan Buses – when they both tried to pull into the same parking space at Turnpike Lane station.
In Taylor’s incident report, submitted on 9 November, he claimed the driver was “aggressively shouting” and that he was unaware the driver was attempting to manoeuvre into the same space. He told the tribunal that the driver appeared at the doors of his bus “abusing and threatening” him, before stepping on to Taylor’s bus, with “something in his hand”.
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Taylor claimed the driver pushed against him and made threats to his life, so to “protect” himself, Taylor pushed the driver off the bus but the driver grabbed Taylor’s arms and tried to bite him.
On 10 November 2020, Metroline’s managing director Stephen Harris received an email from Mr Dean Sullivan of Sullivan Buses regarding the incident on 6 November. Sullivan claimed that his driver was punched and had to attend hospital for head injuries, adding that the driver had multiple bruises and was off work. The email stated that they had not yet had a chance to interview the driver, and the allegations were based solely on viewing CCTV footage of the fight.
Taylor was suspended on the same day and invited to an investigation meeting on 17 November by operations manager Ms May. However, the tribunal heard that when Taylor’s union representative asked for a postponement to view the CCTV, Metroline management decided to go ahead with the investigation meeting without the union rep.
Taylor wrote in a statement that because his chosen representative was denied the opportunity to attend or have access to the CCTV, he would not be answering questions during the meeting. However, he was then given access to the recordings during the investigation meeting.
May decided to progress the investigation to a formal disciplinary hearing in regard to gross misconduct, as the CCTV showed Taylor “breaching and failing to adhere to company rules” when he exited his cab and got into a fight.
Taylor attended a disciplinary hearing on 17 November with Potters Bar Garage’s operations manager, Stuart McManus, and reiterated that he was “unaware” the Sullivan Buses driver was trying to park in the same bay as him. Taylor claimed he opened his door to better hear the driver, who at that point, was not threatening but did appear “peeved”.
McManus decided to dismiss Taylor for gross misconduct by breaching the disciplinary, diversity and inclusion policies, as he felt the level of violence used against the Sullivan Buses driver was “unnecessary” and not something he would deem “self defence”. Taylor appealed the decision but was unsuccessful.
The tribunal ruled that Taylor was unfairly dismissed because Metroline failed to provide the CCTV footage on which it relied to either Taylor or his union representative before the investigation meeting, despite the company’s disciplinary policy stating it had to do so.
Additionally, statements from the Sullivan Buses driver, CCTV recordings from Sullivan Buses, or a statement from the Turnpike Lane bus station controller were never requested.
Judge Bedeau said there was “almost a total reliance on CCTV footage for evidence,” and that it “appears that the hearing was conducted in a manner that whatever [Taylor] had to say was either not taken into account or given little weight – which contributed to his disengagement from the process”.
“He should not have engaged in a heated exchange, no matter how calm his own manner, nor how focussed he was on getting to the next depot, before the Sullivan Buses driver stepped onto the bus”, Bedeau said, adding that his conduct contributed to his dismissal,” but “to a limited extent”.
For this reason, the tribunal ruled that Taylor’s basic and compensatory awards would be reduced by 20 per cent. The case is listed for a remedy hearing on 2 November 2022.
Millie Kempley, employment expert at law firm Taylor Wessing warned against rushing a disciplinary investigation and “cutting corners” where the employee is believed to be caught red-handed.
"The employer, in this case, made several procedural flaws by failing to take account of all available evidence, failing to provide the employee with copies of critical evidence prior to the investigation meeting and failing to give due weight to a previous comparable disciplinary process,” said Kempley, adding that these procedural failings “could have easily been avoided."
A Metroline spokesperson said: “Mr. Taylor was dismissed because he was involved in a serious altercation with another bus driver and refused to cooperate during the investigation. We are disappointed with the tribunal outcome and we are appealing its decision.”
Taylor could not be reached for a comment.