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HGV driver wins unfair dismissal claim after physical fight with colleague

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead Burton

In the case of Alexandru Milea v DHL Services Limited Mr Milea was employed by DHL from January 2016 to February 2022. He was initially employed as a driver’s mate before becoming a van driver, and then an HGV driver.

The incident in question relates to Mr Milea and a co-worker, AT, both of whom worked at the Gatwick depot. Prior to the incident, on 14th December 2021, Mr Milea was asked by managers to offer AT support in his role as First Line Manager of the Gatwick depot.

On 2nd January 2022, AT sent a message to a work WhatsApp group stating “After a huge amount of complaints that came in my name I resign from being manager in Gatwick. As of tomorrow Alex Milea will be in charge of Gatwick. Any problems report to him. Bless you all”

Over the next few days, AT showed up at the Gatwick depot stating he would not work, and Mr Milea would have to do his work for him. On 17th January 2022, the Claimant drove himself and AT to a meeting in Enfield, in a van provided by DHL, as AT did not have a driving licence.

The meeting itself passed without incident and Mr Milea began to drive himself and AT back to the Gatwick depot. In the course of that return journey, AT began to speak to Mr Milea in an increasingly derogatory tone calling him a liar, AT’s dog and making threatening remarks towards him and his family.

He then spat at him, and Mr Milea had to pull over so he could call his line manager. The situation escalated when the van parked at Gatwick, when AT struck Mr Milea and placed him in a headlock. AT claimed Mr Milea tried to push him out of the van and he had retaliated.

Police were called and AT was arrested and taken into custody, but no further action was taken. Mr Milea sustained facial injuries and sent a picture of these to his regional manager.

On 18 January, Mr Milea heard that he was being suspended pending an investigation and received a letter inviting him to a meeting. At a meeting on 11 February, he was summarily dismissed.

In an appeal against the dismissal, it was discovered that no attempt had been made to source CCTV footage of the incident at the depot. The manager presiding over the appeal, in his outcome letter, said “some process failures” had been identified but that the reason for disciplinary action remained, as did the decision to dismiss.

The tribunal itself identified a number of flaws in the process and subsequent decision, including the fact managers did not sufficiently investigate who started the altercation or whether one of the parties had been a victim of assault.

The tribunal ruled that Mr Milea’s actions had not amounted to gross misconduct, and therefore he had been unfairly dismissed. A separate claim for breach of contract was thrown out.

The judge granted a basic award of £1,998.50 and compensatory award of £2,594.88.

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