ET Says Rail Worker Who Failed Drug Test Because of Cocaine-Laced Tea was Unfairly Dismissed; No Compensation Awarded.

In the case of  Mr P Glenholmes v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited, the tribunal ruled the rail worker had been dismissed unfairly. This came after he failed a drug test due to cocaine-laced tea. Despite the ruling, the tribunal didn’t award him any compensation.

Below, we discuss exactly what happened in the case and why the tribunal came to the judgment they did. We also explore when other employees could claim compensation if they’ve faced an unfair dismissal.

Read our guide or contact us with your queries to learn more about unfair dismissals.

The Facts in Mr P Glenholmes v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited


Mr Glenholmes (“The Claimant”) began working for Network Rail Infrastructure Limited (“The Respondent”) on 14 July 2014. He was an ‘on-tain technician’ who dealt with track safety.

On 6 September 2020, the rail worker purchased Mate Tea, known as the “tea of the Incas”. He bought this to relieve his indigestion pains caused by medication for a disability. Although unaware of the product’s contents, it worked almost immediately, causing him to continue using it.

The Suspension of the Rail Worker 

Then, on 24 September, Mr Glenholmes undertook a drug and alcohol screening test that his employer periodically requested. When the results came back, the claimant tested positive for benzoylecgonine. This is a metabolite of cocaine commonly looked for when determining the use of the drug. Following the positive test result, Mr Glenholmes was suspended on 30 September by his line manager, Mr Richard Wilkinson-Ford. 

Subsequently, Mr Shuren Suthanthiran was appointed as the investigating officer, inviting the claimant to a meeting on 21 October. But before the meeting, Mr Glenholmes produced a personal statement for the investigation on 19 October. 

He explained that he believed his failed test had resulted from consuming the Mate Tea. This is because, after conducting some research, he discovered the product contained cocaine. He added, “Having the information and research which I now know, I would not have in good conscience bought the product or consumed it”.

Following the suspension meeting, Mr Suthanthiran produced his investigation report on 3 November, recommending a formal disciplinary hearing. He reasoned that the rail worker knowingly ingested the tea without knowing its contents. 

As a result, the claimant was invited to a formal disciplinary hearing intended to take place on 18 November. However, leading up to the hearing, Mr Glenholmes contacted the respondent, explaining he couldn’t attend due to ill health. Then, he produced a sick note concerning work-related stress on 19 November.

A Grievance was Raised

On 23 November, Mr Glenholmes raised a grievance, claiming a lack of due diligence during the investigation. This led to a report being issued on 24 March 2021, upholding the claimant’s grievance. The following day, the claimant asked for his urine to be re-tested at his own expense.

Also, following the upholding of the grievance, Ms Julia Choudhry was appointed the new disciplinary manager. However, after reviewing all the evidence, she informed Mr Glenholmes on 30 April that a disciplinary hearing still needed to occur. Unfortunately, this massively affected the claimant’s mental health, and he attempted suicide on 7 May. As a result, he was signed off work until February 2022.

Summary Dismissal for the Rail Worker

What’s more, On 17 May 2021, Mr Glenholmes’ retested sample came back and was again positive for the metabolite of cocaine. Sometime later, after various rearrangements, the disciplinary hearing took place on 24 June 2022. 

Subsequently, the rail worker was informed of the disciplinary hearing decision at a meeting on 12 July. The respondent explained the outcome was summary dismissal from work and confirmed this in writing the same day. In response, Mr Glenholmes appealed his dismissal on 21 July. However, on 26 September, the claimant learned that his appeal had been unsuccessful. As a result, Mr Glenholmes brought his claims, which included unfair dismissal, against the respondent on 25 October.

The Tribunal’s Judgment

The tribunal accepted that Mr Glenholmes’ dismissal from work had followed an unfair procedure. This was highlighted by the grievance the rail worker had previously raised, which was upheld. As such, the tribunal ruled that the unfair dismissal claim succeeded.

However, despite being dismissed unfairly, the tribunal stated that Mr Glenholmes was singularly at fault for his dismissal. This is because he was dismissed following a failed drug test after knowingly consuming a product without knowing its ingredients.

After failing the test, Mr Glenholmes quickly discovered that the Mate Tea contained cocaine. Therefore, the tribunal believed it would have been reasonable for him to research this before consuming the product. 

Moreover, the claimant’s sister, a retired nurse, was immediately suspicious of the tea due to its origins and lack of a list of ingredients. The tribunal stated that Mr Glenholmes should have had similar suspicions.

Therefore, since the tribunal ruled Mr Glenholme’s actions made him wholly at fault for his dismissal, they held it just and equitable to reduce his compensation by 100%.

Claiming Unfair Dismissal Compensation

If an employee has been unfairly dismissed like the rail worker, they too may want to claim compensation. In such circumstances, the employee should first appeal their dismissal to see if the matter can be resolved internally.

Should no resolution arise, the employee must undertake ACAS early conciliation before making a claim. Yet, for an employee to claim compensation if they’ve been unfairly dismissed, they must satisfy eligibility criteria, which include:

  • Legally being classed as an employee
  • Having two years of continuous employment with the employer
  • Being within the limitation period to make a claim

If you believe you have been unfairly dismissed, please get in touch with us today. We can discuss your circumstances to uncover your eligibility to claim compensation and advise on how to proceed. Redmans Solicitors have vast employment law experience and offer various funding options to meet your needs.

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