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Student officer loses unfair dismissal claim after cannabis found in bag

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mrs A Harding v Oldham College Amy Harding was employed by the College as a Student Data and Curriculum Compliance Officer. The College has a zero-tolerance policy in respect of illegal drugs on college premises. An employment tribunal heard concerns had been raised about a smell of cannabis around Miss Harding by her line manager, Sharon Figgins.

Her bag was passed to Ms Figgins, who again commented on the smell and a search of her belongings was authorised and undertaken by a colleague, Shelley Hutchinson. Cannabis leaves, cone and roach were seized and Miss Harding was immediately suspended from her position, for bringing prohibited items into college and being ‘under the influence’ of illegal substances, the tribunal heard.

Miss Harding was dismissed for gross misconduct. Miss Harding argued that she had allowed her cousin to use her bag to store items which he usually kept in his car. She knows that he smokes cannabis for medicinal reasons and she maintained she did not have any reason to search her own bag before coming into work, the tribunal heard. She insisted she had never used cannabis and claimed it was tobacco in her bag.

But the judge said the claimant had been given a copy of the stop and search policy before her appeal hearing. And she also noted that disposal of the cannabis items concerned, unless they had amounted to enough to provoke suspicions of dealing, was in line with college policy.

Rejecting her unfair dismissal claim, Judge Miller-Varey said: “I consider that cumulatively the evidence of both illegal drugs and paraphernalia being in the claimant’s possession whilst at work, was very strong.”

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