A recent Health & Safety related case shows the need for an employer to weigh up all of the evidence when they are making a decision. In this particular case, an employee had had an accident that had resulted in a broken ankle at a biscuit factory. He was asked what had happened immediately after his accident and he said he had tried to step over a pallet. The relevant manager took statements from other employees, including a statement saying that he had put an empty pallet in position and that his foot had slipped when he stepped off the pallet. The employer reviewed the CCTV footage and found that the employee had lain a sheet on top of the pallet, moving the pallet with his feet, climbed onto it and stretching up to reach a radio had then fallen or slipped off.
With the evidence showing what had happened, the employer decided to discuss the CCTV with the injured employee and focussed entirely on what he had said in the immediate aftermath of the accident about stepping over the pallet. During a telephone interview in relation to the accident, when the employee was still on strong painkillers, he said he had walked off the pallet and twisted his ankle. In a later interview he was referred to the statements taken at the time suggesting that he had hurt his ankle by tripping over a pallet and he said he didn’t think that was the case.
The manager was suspicious as to why the employee hadn’t reflected on the force of the fall.
The business took the attitude that the employee had knowingly provided the business with a ‘false statement’ and the employee pointed out that he could not really remember what he had said initially because he had been in so much pain.
The employee was dismissed for gross misconduct, the deciding manager felt he had a reasonable belief that he had colluded with other employees to provide different accounts of the incident and misinform them as to the version of events.
The employee brought a claim to the Glasgow Employment Tribunal for Unfair Dismissal and Wrongful Dismissal and was successful in both. The Judge ruled that the employer put too much weight on the initial statement without reviewing what was subsequently said after the incident and had failed to take into account the pain that the employee had been in, and the clear evidence of the CCTV that showed that he hadn’t in fact tripped.
This case shows the importance of not just focussing on the bits of evidence that “prove” what you want it to – you do need to look at all the evidence in front of you before making a decision and weight it all up. Clearly, in circumstances where there has been accident and somebody is in pain, it is reasonable for them to change the accuracy of what they are saying and they might not really know what they are saying in the initial circumstances.