A railway inspector has won £90,000 after being sacked for failing to provide a urine sample for a drugs test – because he had a medical condition which made him too shy to pee . Railway worker Lewis Smith suffered from ‘shy bladder syndrome’ which made him too nervous to go to the toilet when Network Rail called him for the random check.
He pleaded he wasn’t trying to dodge it and even offered to take a blood test – but was fired anyway for refusing to participate. Mr Smith, who previously struggled to go to the toilet on social occasions, was later diagnosed by his GP with the disorder ‘paruresis’.
The condition prevents people from peeing under pressure or when other people are around, and can be experienced by men flanking other men in urinals. Mr Smith, who worked for Network Rail for nine years and led a team of 12 in a critical safety role, successfully sued his former employer for unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal.
But now, after Network Rail ignored a court order to reinstate Mr Smith, saying he had found a ‘loophole’ to escape drug testing, the company has been ordered to pay him nearly £90 £000. The court heard Mr Smith, based at Network Rail’s depot in Havant, Hants, first joined as an apprentice in 2010 and worked his way up through the company, enjoying a ‘successful’ career.
He had previously been ’embarrassed’ when trying to pee but had been able to provide a urine sample for a drugs test years before, Southampton Court, Hants, heard. In July 2019, he and other colleagues were called in for a drug and alcohol test “on a hunch”.
A court report said: “Mr Smith had informed the test officer that he sometimes had difficulty providing urine and had offered to undertake other tests, including a blood test, instead. to provide a urine sample.” He had not sought to avoid providing a urine sample. He was unable to do so due to an undiagnosed medical condition.”
He added: ‘He had been inconvenienced on a few social occasions over a number of years, but had been able to provide a urine sample during a drug test he had undertaken a few years earlier. He had no reason to believe that this would impact the safe execution of his job.
“His GP’s diagnosis confirmed he had paruresis (shy bladder syndrome) and this prevented him from providing a sample to the testing officer.” He was sacked in October 2019 when there was “no evidence of culpable and blameworthy conduct”. He has now won a wrongful dismissal claim in court.
The court panel said Network Rail’s decision to sack Mr Smith was ‘flawed and ill-considered’ and its own procedures confirmed he had not attempted to evade drug testing. The audience was told that Mr Smith struggled to find work after he was made redundant and ended up taking a job at Amazon.
Asking to return to his old job, he said he wanted ‘to continue his career as a railway worker and would effectively be barred from such a career unless reinstated or re-engaged by Network Rail policy’. However, Network Rail claimed there was a ‘break in trust’ between the company and Mr Smith as he argued he should not get his job back.
The company claimed this would ‘lead other employees to conclude that Mr Smith had found a loophole in Network Rail’s alcohol and drugs policy’. Ordering his reinstatement, the court panel said: “Mr Smith had taken every possible step available to him at the earliest opportunity to prove that he had not used drugs.
“No evidence has been provided to the Tribunal to suggest that he did so. “Nor is there any evidence before the Tribunal to support the allegation that his relationship with his superior, or any other colleague, had broken following his actions and in particular the opening of a prud’homale procedure against Network Rail.
However, Network Rail maintained that it did not wish to reinstate Mr Smith and agreed to pay him compensation. As a result, the panel ordered the company to pay Mr Smith £89,861, which includes charges for his non-compliance. Of the £89,861, Mr Smith received £58,886 in compensation, £27,300 in additional compensation and £3,675 in basic compensation.