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September’s top five employment law cases

2 Oct 2019 By PM Editorial

People Management runs down the most read tribunals of last month, from flawed investigations to ‘outrageous’ phone calls

1. Council must pay manager £100,000 in lost earnings following ‘seriously flawed’ investigation

The Central London Employment Tribunal (ET) ordered that a council manager be reinstated to his job and paid £100,618 in lost wages after his claim of unfair dismissal in the fallout from a complex procurement process was upheld.

J Thornhill, who worked at Camden Borough Council in London, was dismissed from his role as street lighting and drainage manager in September 2017 following an internal investigation into the mishandling of a process that cost the council a large amount in compensation.

The ET heard Thornhill was accused of failing to report potential irregularities in a tender process, and of neglecting to inform his employer about interactions with one of the bidding companies, even though he had asked to be removed from the process as he dealt with the aftermath of an accident that left his son hospitalised.

It ruled the investigation leading to Thornhill’s dismissal was “seriously flawed”, and branded some of the evidence collected for the disciplinary hearing “meaningless”.

2. Vegetarianism a lifestyle choice not a protected characteristic, tribunal rules

The Norwich ET dismissed a discrimination claim brought by a vegetarian employee, ruling that vegetarianism was not protected by equality law like sexuality or gender as it did not meet the criteria for a philosophical belief.

Judge Robin Postle said there were many reasons people might not eat meat, but that vegetarianism as a belief must have a “similar status or cogency to religious beliefs”. He added that holding a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour was “not enough in itself”. 

The ruling, however, held out hope for vegans who are campaigning to have veganism viewed as a protected characteristic in employment law. Postle said there was a “clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief” that vegetarianism lacked.

3. Warehouse worker unfairly dismissed after being accused of providing false information during investigation

A warehouse worker was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed after his employer alleged he had lied about a workplace accident, a Glasgow tribunal ruled.

George Hope, who worked for United Biscuits, injured his ankle after he stepped off a pallet he was standing on. In the immediate aftermath of the injury, Hope said he had tried to step over the pallet, but he later amended his statement.

United Biscuits alleged that after the injury, Hope had provided false information to hide the fact he had carried out an unsafe act, and also said he had colluded with a colleague to misinform other employees.

But the ET ruled that no reasonable employer would have believed Hope’s initial statement – which became the focus of the subsequent investigation and disciplinary hearings – was intentionally disingenuous, as it was was taken when Hope was in pain. It also said little consideration was given to Hope having given a much more accurate description of events at the earliest opportunity after the night of the incident.

4. School that suspended bipolar teacher was discriminatory, tribunal finds

A teacher with bipolar disorder was discriminated against by his employer after it continued to suspend him even though he was determined medically fit to work. 

The Manchester ET found Gary Day-Davies, a humanities teacher for the United Learning Trust, was subjected to discrimination after the trust rejected evidence from a psychologist and Day-Davies’ GP that he was well enough to work.

While the ET found the initial suspension was fair, Judge Paul Holmes cited that Day-Davies had “extremely quickly” obtained and provided the trust with the medical evidence it required to lift the suspension. Holmes also questioned why the trust later changed its mind and allowed Day-Davies to return to work on the basis of the same medical advice it initially rejected.

5. Property agency worker harassed by boss after ‘outrageous and discriminatory’ comments

An office worker was awarded almost £82,000 for claims of racial and gender harassment after receiving an “outrageous and discriminatory” phone call from her employer, a London ET has ruled.

Ms S Khan, who worked in administration and accounts for north London-based property agency SN Estates Property Services, succeeded in seven claims for race-related harassment and two for gender-related harassment following a string of incidents including a phone call with the company director and owner, Mr M Miah, which the tribunal described as “outrageous and discriminatory”.

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