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Distillery worker sacked for ‘urinating on whisky barrel’ wins unfair dismissal claim

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

Kerry Wilson, 51, was fired after a suspicious puddle was found next to casks at a William Grant & Sons distillery shortly after the accused had been seen in the area. The 51-year-old had been spotted by a colleague near the barrels shortly before the wet patch was discovered, an employment tribunal heard. A can of urine deodorant spray was also found at his workplace at the Girvan distillery in Ayrshire, Scotland.

When confronted he claimed he was an ornithologist and had spotted a robin in the gap between the barrels. The tribunal in Glasgow was told he had been with the firm for 31 years by the time of the

incident in 2019. Wilson had not previously expressed an interest in birds which “severely undermined” his credibility in the eyes of the company.

Asked about the urine deodoriser, Mr Wilson said he thought it was just a cleaning spray. A sample of the liquid was sent to a lab which concluded that it was human urine. Bosses at the whisky firm refused to believe the married father-of-two’s explanation and sacked him from his £49,000 a year job as a spirit supply operative.

He then sued William Grant for £70,000 for unfair and wrongful dismissal claiming he had been made a scapegoat, that the firm did not have enough evidence to fire him and that sacking him was too harsh a response.

The panel – chaired by Employment Judge Ian McPherson – found that it was reasonable for bosses to doubt Mr Wilson’s explanation that he was following a robin – “No-one else is noted as having seen a bird that day, and no other witness spoke to any issue with bird ingress recently,” the tribunal judgement said.

“(Mr Wilson) apparently observed a small bird the size of a robin on the floor close to the pallets. In his evidence to the Tribunal he took 2 to 3 steps…at which point he could no longer see the bird. This differs from the account that he gave at the time to his employer, which was that he saw the bird fly away. The flying away of the bird is itself not without difficulty – where he said to have observed was a fully enclosed part of the building and not on the outskirts of the building by loading doors. Why did no one else observe the bird?”

“It was plainly within the band of reasonable responses for an employer not to believe (Mr Wilson’s) purported explanations.”

However, the tribunal said that while his dismissal was not unfair the company had not proved to them that he was guilty of the urination. “Reasonable belief in his guilt, which is relevant for the unfair dismissal complaint, does not suffice for them to prove that they had grounds for his summary dismissal for gross misconduct,” the panel said.

As a result the tribunal ordered the company to pay Mr Wilson 12 weeks notice, a total of £11,264.76 in damages for breach of contract.

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