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Case Studies

Case Studies

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An overreaction to a drugs confession that left an employer looking a dope

Published 26 July 2023

You expect an employer to take a dim view of any employee admitting to illegal drug taking, but did Valerie really deserve to face disciplinary action when she confessed to cocaine use?

The strategic development manager, for a large insurance company, made the admission while enjoying evening drinks with colleagues during a company away day.

A conversation about drug use took place after one male employee asked a female colleague if she knew where he could get some cocaine from.

Horrified by the comment the worker said she had never used drugs, never would and would not know where to purchase them.

She was teased and mocked by members of the seven-strong group. Some of those present, including Valerie, then openly discussed their own illegal drug use.

Shocked by what she heard, the employee later reported to management what had been said.

Valerie, who had worked for the company for four years, was one of four employees subsequently suspended from work.

The initial feeling Valerie had was that it was a massive overreaction, but she understandably feared the worst.

The original allegations levelled against her, were that she had tried to bully a colleague to buy illicit drugs along with a breach of the employer’s alcohol and drugs policy.

Valerie contacted our Employee Support Centre for advice and help.

She told our representative she did not ask her workmate to buy drugs, and only spoke about past use during a difficult time in her personal life.

Upon reviewing the evidence gathered by the employer during the disciplinary investigation, it was documented that Valerie fully explained the situation during a fact-finding meeting

The issue was, she admitted last using cocaine about three-and-a-half years earlier - which was during the time she was working for her employer. This was considered a breach of the alcohol and drugs policy.

When Valerie was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing it was to face a single  allegation of breaching the policy.

Valerie’s disciplinary hearing, for reasons unexplained, was delayed.

Before it eventually took place she learnt that one colleague facing allegations from the same incident had resigned and was planning to make a claim for constructive dismissal.

While the male member of staff who asked his colleague where he could buy cocaine was dismissed, but believed it to be an unfair dismissal.

Prior to Valerie’s disciplinary hearing, our representative reviewed the alcohol and drugs policy. After doing so he believed the allegation was unfair, and agreed with Valerie’s initial assessment the action being taken was an overreaction

At the hearing our representative strongly asserted the admission of previous drug use by Valerie did not breach company policy.

In summary, the policy covered bringing, selling, purchasing, and/or using illegal drugs and/or controlled substances on company premises, or reporting to work under the influence of such substances.

The hearing was told Valerie cannot reasonably be considered to have breached the policy.

Our representative made it clear Valerie was not a drug user and her past use of illicit substances coincided with an extremely unstable and volatile period in her life.

He pointed out in mitigation, that during that period she was actually given compassionate leave from work, and the employer was aware of the serious problems and issues she faced in her personal life at the time.

It was explained that Valerie had suffered a mental and emotional crisis at the time and deeply regretted taking drugs and had learned from it. It was also asserted her ability to do her job was not, and is not, affected by it.

Valerie’s work record, outstanding performance in the job, the fact she had a clean disciplinary record and had never been the subject of any previous investigation were all detailed in support of our representative’s forceful argument she should be cleared of the allegation.

Valerie was later cleared of the allegation.

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