Employee suffering painful back injury sacked unfairly (Mr C Pamment v Renewi UK Services Ltd – ET3201672/2020)

In the case of Pamment v Renewi UK Services Ltd ET3201672/2020 the Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal of an employee suffering from acute back pain for taking cannabis (to treat that pain) was unfair.

The facts in Pamment v Renewi UK Services Ltd

Mr Pamment became a full-time  employee of Renewi UK Services Ltd (the “Respondent”) on 01 October 2010. The Respondent operated a policy that anyone who failed a drugs test would be dismissed if they did not resign.

In June 2019 Mr Pamment suffered a back injury and he started to suffer from chronic and acute back pain; he was subsequently signed off work as medically unfit to work. From December 2019 onwards Mr Pamment on occasion took cannabis to help with the pain, and to help him to sleep.

On 6 January 2020 Mr Pamment returned to work. In March 2020 Mr Pamment undertook a random drugs test at work and he tested “non-negative” for cannabis. The Respondent summoned Mr Pamment to a disciplinary meeting on 30 March 2020 and he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct on 1 April 2020, with the Respondent giving the reason for dismissal that he had tested “non-negative”.  

Mr Pamment subsequently brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal found Mr Pamment’s dismissal to have been outside of the range of reasonable responses and therefore unfair for the following reasons:

  • No account had been taken for the genuine reason for Mr Pamment taking the cannabis (his back injury);
  • Mr Pamment had an unblemished service record and there had been no concerns about his work or attitude (or in any other way) after his return to work on 06 January 2020;
  • That the Respondent had assessed that Mr Pamment’s conduct amounted to gross misconduct without any assessment of the circumstances;
  • That the policy that everyone who failed a drugs test would be dismissed if they did not resign was not a fair reason to dismiss
  • That the the Respondent’s contention that Mr Pamment was a health and safety risk was not relevant as he mainly acted as a driver’s mate, not the driver of company vehicles
  • No account was taken of the Respondent’s own Health and Wellbeing Policy (drugs and alcohol section) which stated – “Renewi, where it is aware that an employee may have a problem with substance abuse, will concentrate on rehabilitation” which should have been applied in his situation. The policy on alcohol drugs and medicine expressly committed the Respondent to supporting employees with drug problems, and that expressly included illegal drugs (set out in the definitions section of the policy).  

Our lawyers’ views on the case of Pamment v Renewi UK Services Ltd

Stephen Norton, a lawyer at Redmans, commented on the case: “In this case the Respondent – in their haste to dismiss an employee – attempted to ignore the fairer aspects of their own policy to offer help and support to an employee rather than penalise them. Under the Respondent’s policies they should have taken account of Mr Pamment’s addiction and supported him; they should have also taken account of Mr Pamment’s good service record before making any decision to dismiss him. The failure to treat the employee fairly, in this circumstance, rendered the dismissal of the employee unfair.”

The judgment in the case of Pamment v Renewi UK Services Ltd can be found here.