The top 10 employment law cases of 2021

From breaking self-isolation rules to practical jokes gone wrong, People Management runs down our most-read tribunal stories of the last 12 months

1. Worker absent for 800 shifts during career was unfairly dismissed, tribunal finds

A worker who was absent for 808 shifts over a 20-year career – costing the firm an estimated £95,850 in sick pay – won an unfair dismissal claim after a tribunal found his former employer had not followed its own absence management procedures.

The Birmingham employment tribunal found Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) unfairly dismissed Mr V Rumbold, who had worked in various car assembly roles for the manufacturer from February 1999 until his dismissal on 7 December 2018.

Because of its failure to follow these procedures, the tribunal ruled that by the time JLR decided to end Rumbold’s employment, dismissal was “not a sanction which fell within the range of reasonable responses available to them”.

2. Office manager denied remote working because boss ‘knew what was best for her’ awarded £60k at tribunal

An office manager was discriminated against after she was told she was not allowed to work remotely from her son’s hospital bedside as he underwent treatment for cancer.

The Leeds employment tribunal found that Lorraine Hodgson, who worked for Martin Design Associates until her resignation in July 2019, was directly discriminated against on the grounds of sex and was constructively unfairly dismissed after her boss denied her remote working request in part because of “his belief that he knew best for the claimant”.

Judge Wade found the firm’s managing director, Chris Martin, made the decision that Hodgson “could not work and look after her son’s needs in hospital, whatever she thought”, and that Martin “gave her views no credit [and] had a closed mind to the idea that she could fulfil all or part of her role remotely”. This was despite the fact a company laptop and telephone was available and much of her work could have been completed remotely.

3. Worker unfairly dismissed for complaining about boss on Facebook, tribunal rules

A paint sprayer was awarded £28,000 for unfair dismissal after a judge ruled his employer’s investigation into whether he had breached social media policy was inadequate.

The tribunal ruled that the managing director of A1M Retro Classics “unreasonably confused what was required of an employee by the [company’s] social media policy” after a worker for the firm, Michael Austin, posted a Facebook status referring to an argument the pair had had.

A number of Austin’s Facebook friends made comments on the post, some of which were homophobic and in which the commenter suggested Austin should “punch his boss in the face because it would make him feel better”.

However the judge ruled that the company's social media policy “did not require the employee to police the comments of others” and that there was no evidence that would have supported to a reasonable employer the contention that the employee was engaging in a prohibited discussion.

4. Lorry driver sacked for refusing to wear face mask was not unfairly dismissed, landmark ruling shows

The East London Hearing Centre ruled that a delivery driver fired for refusing to wear a face covering inside his cab while delivering to a supplier during the UK’s first Covid lockdown was not unfairly dismissed.

The tribunal found that Kent Foods Limited had lost confidence in delivery driver Deimantas Kubilius’ future conduct after his refusal to wear a face mask led him to be banned from a supplier’s site.

The landmark tribunal held that while Kubilius was not at the time aware of his requirement to wear a mask inside his cab, his “continued insistence” that he had done nothing wrong and “lack of remorse” made the employer’s decision to dismiss a fair and reasonable response.

The judge added that it was “not feasible for the claimant to continue in his contractual role” because of the ban.

5. NHS worker subjected to ‘stressful’ practical joke by manager was unfairly dismissed, tribunal finds

An NHS worker “ostracised” by her team and subjected to an “extremely stressful” prank was awarded almost £10,000 for bullying and harassment.

Carol Hurley, who worked as deputy finance business partner for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust from October 2016 until her resignation in September 2018, was sent fake emails by her line manager, who pretended that Hurley had to give a presentation the next day as a practical joke, the tribunal heard.

After she raised the prank as an issue with another manager, Hurley began to be excluded by her colleagues and was subjected to other incidents.

The tribunal heard that shared spreadsheets she had updated were tampered with and information deleted, and at one point the contents of her desk drawers had been removed while she was away from it, including useful notes from her training.

6. Forklift driver who mistakenly broke Covid self-isolation guidelines by attending work was unfairly dismissed, tribunal rules

A remote tribunal found that a forklift driver who was sacked after he attended work under the assumption that his son was faking Covid symptoms was unfairly dismissed.

Mr D Lewis, who had been employed by the Benriach Distillery Company for 23 years before his dismissal, was accused of being “highly irresponsible” and “reckless” by the company’s HR team when he attended work while his son awaited the results of a Covid test.

However, the tribunal ruled that Lewis had nothing to gain by pretending his son didn’t have Covid because he would have been paid while he was self-isolating, and that he did not knowingly breach Scottish government guidance.

7. Worker made homeless after removal of onsite accommodation was constructively unfairly dismissed, tribunal finds

The East London Hearing Centre ruled that a maintenance worker who, alongside his family, was made homeless when his employer took away his onsite accommodation was unfairly constructively dismissed and a victim of breach of contract.

Mr G Mason, who worked as a maintenance supervisor for Park Holidays from May 2012 until his resignation in March 2020, was given two weeks’ notice without any consultation from his employer to vacate himself and his family from the onsite premises, which had been his family home for eight years.

Judge Ross said giving Mason and his family just two weeks’ notice to vacate their home “fell some distance short of what was required. The claimant had lived onsite with his family for eight years. Reasonable notice would have been substantially longer than two weeks.”

8. Postman fired for urinating in lay-by was unfairly dismissed, tribunal finds

A postal worker who was dismissed from his job at Royal Mail for urinating in a public lay-by during his rounds was unfairly dismissed.

The Watford Employment Tribunal ruled that Royal Mail unfairly dismissed Mr R Rawal for gross misconduct, finding the main reason for dismissal was a “poor relationship” with his line manager, who “did not see eye to eye” with Rawal because of his trade union activities.

Rawal was an assistant area health and safety workplace representative and a Communication Workers Union (CWU) branch editor, as well as the deputy area safety representative for the Northern Home Counties CWU branch for a period. Rawal claimed his union activities “brought him into conflict with his direct line manager” because, according to Rawal, he “did not like [Rawal] questioning [Royal Mail] practices”.

9. Manager with cancer fired after steroids altered his behaviour awarded £2.5m for unfair dismissal

The London South Employment Tribunal awarded a manager who was forced out of his job when steroid medication altered his mood more than £2.5m.

The tribunal said it had “little difficulty” in concluding that engineering and infrastructure firm Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) “dressed up” David Barrow’s termination as a breakdown in trust and confidence.

It also agreed with witness testimony that the company created a “ruse” to dismiss Barrow, who was a victim of unfair dismissal, disability-related harassment and unfavourable treatment for something arising in consequence of disability.

10. University warden sacked for ‘aggressive’ text messages was unfairly dismissed, tribunal rules

A lecturer accused of sending “aggressive” messages to colleagues was awarded £15,000 for unfair dismissal after an employment tribunal ruled there had not been a proper investigation into the allegations made against him.

Employment judge Adkinson said there had not been so much as the “beginning of an investigation” into a number of allegations made against Dr Binoy Sobnack by his employer, Loughborough University.

However, the tribunal reduced the compensation awarded to Sobnack because the “brusque, blunt and unnecessarily aggressive” tone of messages he sent to colleagues amounted to “culpable and blameworthy conduct that contributed to everything that happened”.