A local newspaper chief sub-editor has won £20,000 for being wrongfully dismissed after he drunkenly sent a personal late-night text message to a female junior colleague.
Paul Gray, who worked for the Hartlepool Mail for 14 years, was sacked after he sent the message while on holiday from work.
The NUJ, which represented Gray with its lawyers Thompsons, said the woman had insisted she had been sharing ‘vulgar’jokes with Gray for years and did not complain.
But the Mail’s owner Northeast Press, a subsidiary of Johnston Press, decided to sack him after he showed the messages to colleagues in the open-plan newsroom and for a separate incident at an ASDA supermarket in which he was asked to leave the store after being refused alcohol.
The tribunal heard that the newsroom was a ‘vibrant place’where the banter was ‘frequently sexual in nature and often vulgar’– something bosses must have known about.
The tribunal concluded that the company had ignored its alcohol and drugs policy. Gray, a self-confessed alcoholic, should not have been dismissed and should instead have had the opportunity for treatment for his alcoholism and to mitigate his behaviour, it ruled.
The paper’s managers said they were not aware Gray was an alcoholic until the disciplinary hearing, a claim the tribunal said was ‘incredible”.
The then editor, Paul Napier, had by that point put a note on Gray’s personnel file about his conduct and standard of work.
The tribunal concluded: ‘No reasonable employer would suddenly have dismissed an employee [for the text messages] having previously condoned sexual banter and failed to act on it in the past.
‘In relation to the incident in ASDA, although the claimant was an embarrassment to himself and to the respondent, this was outside of work hours.
‘No reasonable employer would have dismissed for this particular conduct committed outside of work.”
The tribunal awarded Gray 12 months’ pay in compensation.
Chris Morley, NUJ northern organiser, said: ‘The NUJ has backed Paul in what was never going to be an easy case because it is determined that employers understand the importance of not just having, but properly implementing, alcohol and drugs policies.”