Dismissal for driving HGV without a valid driving licence was fair

In the case of Wincanton plc v Atkinson and another, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has rules that dismissal for driving HGV without a valid driving licence was fair.


The Respondents were employed as HGV drivers by Wincanton plc and they were required to have an ADR licence, to enable them to carry dangerous loads, in addition to their normal HGV licence.

Both drivers had 19 years’ service with Wincanton, a haulage and logistics company that employs around 6,500 drivers. The Company checks drivers’ licences every six months and whilst carrying out such a check, they discovered that the licences for both drivers had expired.

The Company dismissed the Claimants for gross misconduct due to the “potentially serious adverse impact” of driving without valid licences, which is a criminal offence. When appealing their dismissal, the Claimants argued that dismissal was the wrong sanction given that, six years earlier, one of the Claimants had made a similar error. In that instance, the DVLA had been informed and asked to expedite the renewal application, which it agreed to do. No disciplinary action had been taken in relation to that incident. The Company rejected the Claimants’ appeal on the basis that, in three other cases, drivers had been dismissed when they lost their licences and regulations had been tightened since the incident the Claimants cited.

The Employment Tribunal Decision

The Tribunal held that the dismissals were unfair. It said that no reasonable employer would have made the decision to dismiss, noting that although the consequences of driving without a licence were “too horrific to contemplate”, there had been no “regulatory comeback”, even though the regulator had been notified. It also noted that the three previous dismissals, relied upon by the Company as creating a precedent, were in different circumstances as the employees in those dismissals had had their licences revoked by the DVLA for reasons such as medical unfitness or driving offences. The Tribunal found the dismissals to be unfair but reduced the compensatory award by 60% for contributory fault.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal Decision

The Company appealed the decision and the EAT upheld the appeal. It stated that the Tribunal had placed too much emphasis on the fact that although though the employees’ actions could have had potentially horrific consequences, nothing had actually happened. It decided that this amounted to an error of law by the Tribunal because it would mean that a negligent employee could not be fairly dismissed if the illegal act had no repercussions for the employer.


This is a good decision for employers because it clarifies that employees cannot escape dismissal when they are guilty of serious negligence in circumstances when it does not result in anything bad happening. Put simply, employers can take into account potential adverse consequences and it does not matter whether those consequences have actually materialised.

Are You HR Compliant?

Green Arrow (150 x 120)

Is Your Business Compliant?

If I asked you whether your business was HR compliant would you know? Answer my simple questionnaire and I will send you a report detailing what I think you are doing well and what you need to change, particularly areas that are putting your business at risk.

HR doesn’t need to bureaucratic, but it does need doing otherwise you risk receiving time-consuming and expensive claims against your business.

Get the Latest Legislation News and My Top Tips delivered straight to your inbox

Let Me Buy You A Coffee!

If you found this helpful and you would like to learn more about how I work with owners of small business who want to improve their HR management, please go here.

Tap into and share the Kea world!

Don't forget to add Kea to your social networks and when you read an article that you like share it with your network!
Dismissal for driving HGV without a valid driving licence was fair
Tagged on:


Kathryn is a highly experienced HR Manager with a wealth of skills and knowledge acquired across a variety of industries including manufacturing, health and social care and financial services. She has worked in small localised business and larger multi sited organisations and is comfortable liaising with senior managers and union officials as well as answering queries from team members. Connect with Kathryn on:

Call Us