Essex

Cocaine-test bus driver wins unfair dismissal case

First Essex Buses at a stop Image copyright Martin Addison/Geograph
Image caption Ken Ball was unfairly dismissed by First Essex Buses, a tribunal ruled

A bus driver who was sacked after testing positive for cocaine has won almost £40,000 in compensation at an employment tribunal.

Ken Ball, 62, failed a saliva test after a shift in June 2017 but insisted he had never taken drugs other than those prescribed to him.

He blamed the test results on students on his bus, claiming cocaine may have got into his saliva from bank notes.

First Buses has declined to comment on the proceedings.

Mr Ball had his hair follicles tested, which showed no traces of cocaine.

Despite this First Essex Buses Limited sacked him for gross misconduct in July 2017 and upheld the decision at two appeals.

Mr Ball sued his former bosses for unfair dismissal and has been awarded £37,369 compensation at the tribunal at the East London Hearing Centre.

Employment Judge Tobin said Mr Ball had enjoyed a 21-year unblemished career as a driver for the company and had been left "shocked" and "floundering" when told he had failed the test.

"He explained that he had come back from a busy shift where he had picked up a lot of students and handled cash," the judge continued.

"He claimed that the constant handling of money and hand-to-mouth interaction potentially contaminated the sample."

'Grossly unfair'

As a diabetic, he had to test his blood sugar regularly, causing sore fingertips which he said he licked continuously, the judge added.

Mr Ball was repeatedly told during the disciplinary process that his hair follicle test, which he had paid for himself, could not be taken into account because it was not part of the company's procedure, the judge said.

But the judge said the company had a policy which said it had to take all evidence into account.

"To discount evidence on such a basis was illogical, grossly unfair and in breach of the disciplinary procedures," he said.

'Living nightmare'

Mr Ball said he hoped the case would mean no-one else would have to go through such a "terrible ordeal".

He said: "I can never forgive First Buses for the pain they put my wife through."

Peter Kavanagh, regional secretary of union Unite, which supported Mr Ball, said: "First Essex Buses cruelly plunged Mr Ball into a living nightmare after they disgracefully and wrongly sacked him.

"Managers refused to accept two additional, more reliable tests nor did they publically acknowledge the implausible nature of Mr Ball's guilt even though they privately acknowledged this possibility in communications."

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