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Manager wins unfair dismissal case after ‘practical joke’ involving fake drugs

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Buchholz v GEZE UK Limited, GEZE is a company which supplies products, systems and services related to door, window and safety technology. As part of a running joke with colleagues, Buchholz, a technical product manager, staged sherbet and straw on his desk to look like drugs and drug-taking paraphernalia.

They were later found by a contract cleaner and reported to management. An investigation and disciplinary process was carried out and Buchholz was dismissed for damaging GEZE’s reputation. It was believed the prank could have been put on social media conveying the message that GEZE condoned drug use.

The employment tribunal found that Buchholz had been unfairly dismissed holding that no reasonable employer would have concluded that the employee’s actions merited dismissal in the circumstances. There had been no reputational damage, the matter had never been circulated on social media or otherwise and the risk of this occurring was low as everyone involved understood from the outset that the set up was likely to be a joke.

Buchholz had 14 years’ service, no live disciplinary warnings and had apologised to the cleaner. Furthermore, there was a failure to follow a reasonable process when the investigating officer also conducted the disciplinary hearing when it should have been held by another manager in the interests of fairness.

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