Tribunal | Biotech firm director sacked after colleague smells cannabis in company car

Biotech firm director sacked after colleague smells cannabis in company car

A director at a Bristol-based biotech company has been sacked after a colleague could smell cannabis in a company car being driven by the business leader.

Martyn Jutsum, the Co-Founder of biotech firm O3Biotech, was suspended from his role as a director when he admitted to using cannabis recreationally while at work.  He attempted to sue the company on grounds of unfair dismissal, however his claims were rejected.

Jutsum founded O3Biotech - a company that provides purification for air, feed and water supplies in the agriculture industry - with Co-Founder Paul Draper in 2016, becoming science director the next year. 

The case

O3Biotech housed several employees close to the business’ office in Dorset. Jutsum and his son Matthew lived there, along with the company’s technical director Erik Helmink.

It was in early 2022 that Helmink became concerned about ‘excessive behaviour’ at the house, relating to the consumption of alcohol and cannabis, fearing this behaviour would carry on through to the workplace.

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Helmink sent an email to the colleagues in the house, explaining a ‘zero tolerance alcohol and joints’ policy in the weeks leading up to an important project, fearing it could pose a risk to health and safety.

He was particularly concerned that there would be negligence while handling dangerous machinery and explosives – both important aspects of their roles and the company’s function. Jutsum accepted his use of cannabis as workplace risk, the court heard.

The court also heard that Helmink recalled numerous times he noticed a “strong cannabis smell” coming from Jutsum.

On one occasion in June 2022, Jutsum gave a fellow colleague a lift from the office. The employee reportedly told managers that she was “frightened” as Jutsum had driven “erratically”, assuming he was under the influence of cannabis at the same time as driving with her as a passenger.

After this, the decision was made to suspend Jutsum. However, during his suspension meeting, the end of a cannabis joint fell out of his pocket, the tribunal heard. Jutsum denied smoking cannabis at work and said he had been smoking herbal cigarettes. However, his claims were rejected, and he was fired for misconduct. He went on to sue his former employer for unfair dismissal, with his claims rejected.

Drug taking at work

O3Biotech had a policy which stated that being in possession of drugs, or under the influence of it, would be regarded as serious misconduct. According to the law, employers have a legal duty to protect employee’s health, safety and welfare at work.

It’s a criminal offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act for a person to permit the production, supply or use of illegal substances in the workplace. Additionally, Jutsum would have been in violation of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for driving under the influence of cannabis.

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