The coca tea contained cocaine ingredients which the worker says he was unaware of (Picture: Getty Images/)
A Network Rail safety worker was sacked for drinking herbal tea infused with cocaine but has won his case for unfair dismissal.
Paul Glenholmes ingested the Class A drug through a traditional South American drink known as Inka tea to aid with his digestion in September 2022, an employment tribunal heard.
He told the hearing it was not ‘ordinary green tea’ but said he was unaware of the ingredients after buying it from a market stall with no label.
Mr Glenholmes failed a drug test as he was four times over the cut-off amount for misuse of a controlled substance.
He was told by a testing laboratory ‘drinking cocaine in tea does not make it legal’.
Weeks later he tested positive for benzoylecgonine – the metabolite of cocaine routinely looked for in urine to establish that cocaine had recently been used.
He was suspended from his job days later while an investigation was launched, and subsequently sacked.
The rail operator has a strict drug policy that states if employees test positive for substances – such as cocaine – they should be suspended with immediate effect.
The tribunal was held in Nottingham (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
Mr Glenholmes said: ‘Having the information and research which I now know, I would not have in good conscience bought the product or consumed it.’
He was invited to a disciplinary hearing on the basis that he had ‘knowingly ingested Coca Tea without understanding what it contained’.
But he informed bosses he would not be attending due to ill health and later raised a grievance for a lack of due diligence’ by bosses when commencing the investigation.
He asked for his urine sample to be re-tested months later and asked the laboratory how cocaine and Coca Tea can be differentiated, so it would not happen again.
They said the benzoylecgonine metabolite would be detected in both cases as it is an ingestion of cocaine.
The laboratory added: ‘This is because coca tea is made from coca plant leaves and contains cocaine. This means that [Mr Glenholmes] has used cocaine. Drinking cocaine in tea does not make it legal.’
Mr Glenholmes appealed this decision, which was rejected, and later took Network Rail to the tribunal for unfair dismissal.
The employment judge ruled he was unfairly sacked because of procedural errors by Network Rail so his claims of unfair dismissal succeeded, but the judge denied him compensation.
But Mr Glenholmes will not receive compensation because he was ‘wholly to blame’ for not checking what the drink contained.
Employment Judge Martin Brewer said by consuming the tea, there is ‘no doubt’ that Mr Glenholmes was ‘deserving of blame’.
Mr Brewer continued: ‘The claimant’s compensatory award shall be nil because it is not just and equitable to award him compensation, or alternatively the compensation should be reduced by 100% to reflect his contributory conduct.
‘I am in no doubt that he was entirely to blame for his dismissal.
‘He deliberately drank tea from South America without knowing, and not researching prior to drinking it, what it contained.’
Judge Brewer added: ‘Here Mr Glenholmes was wholly blameworthy.
‘There were no other contributing factors to his dismissal other than the failed drug test which he could have avoided if he had done the research he did after the failed drug test either before he drank the tea or shortly thereafter once he was aware of its efficacy.
‘But he chose not to.’
He added Mr Glenholmes ‘deliberately contradicted the terms’ of the company’s drug policy by ‘not finding out what he was ingesting when drinking tea from South America’.
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