Opinion

Negligence and dismissals

In most cases, serious negligence could be grounds for gross misconduct. But what happens if an employee has a lucky escape and nothing results from the negligence? Will a dismissal be unfair? Sadly for employees, the answer is 'yes' according to an Employment Appeal Tribunal that looked at the case of two lorry drivers who had let their HGV licences lapse.    

The two were required to renew their HGV driver's licences every five years. During a routine spot check it was discovered that their HGV licences had expired by one month and five months respectively. This meant that whilst driving without an HGV licence they were committing a criminal offence and potentially invalidating the employer's insurance. The lack of insurance could have been disastrous because of the dangerous loads the drivers were transporting and could also have led to action by the authorities that would have removed the licence necessary to run the haulage business. In the event, no action was taken by the regulators, but the both drivers were dismissed even though they both had good clean records.

The case is helpful for situations where an employee has been seriously negligent but been lucky. However, the drivers were not only negligent, but criminal - it's just like driving over the legal limit for alcohol. But where the negligence is neither criminal nor illegal, employers will have to carefully decide if dismissal is the right response.

This was first published in October 2011

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